Finding a husband was a full-time job after Juliette (Daisy) Gordon and her friends made their debuts. All their education led to this crucial pursuit. Art classes, French lessons, and dancing school made women more socially desirable. Foreign travel created better conversationalists. The boarding school curriculum of history, literature, classics, and a smattering of science prepared them for partnership with ambitious men.
Socializing showcased a woman’s intellectual achievements as well as her physical attributes. Parties, picnics, dances, sporting events, and balls—all chaperoned, of course—brought the opposite sexes together in elaborate courtship rituals.
The trouble was, so much of it was not in the control of the young woman. She could not pursue, make overtures, flirt, seem forward, or propose. Parents had the final say over the appropriate spouse, and could (and did) put up barriers, like a year’s separation, to test young lovers.
Since they couldn’t control social rules or command parental approval, it’s no surprise that Daisy and her friends sought to influence their fates. There were tried and true ways to do this. Daisy Gordon, Abby Lippitt, and Mary Carter attempted most of them!
The friends were extremely superstitious, and throughout their lives all three consulted horoscope readers and made their own predictions. Mary possessed a particular power of augury, they believed. But that didn’t stop them from collecting horseshoes for luck and reading apple peels to discover the identity of their future husbands.
Daisy and Abby shared the same birthday: 31 October, All Hallow’s Eve. The time around All Saints Day was ideal for seeking marital omens. By the light of the Halloween moon, Abby and Daisy, age 22, held hands and tiptoed out to a cabbage patch to steal a cabbage. Once safely back inside with it they could tell much about their future husbands: the larger the cabbage, the larger the physical size of him. The sweeter the cabbage, the more pleasing his disposition. Then when they put the stem of the cabbage over the door (most young women used a cabbage leaf), the future husband would share the same first letter of the name of the first person who walked through the door. Daisy learned that she was to have a “tranquil” courtship, and a “happy marriage” to a man named George—but alas, George would die, leaving her a widow. Intriguingly, she chose a cabbage with a double stem. That meant she would “marry twice.”
But who? During the spring of 1883, Mary and Daisy availed themselves of another old folk belief: the woman who, on Easter Sunday, donned a yellow garter that had been worn by a bride would be guaranteed a marriage proposal before Easter came round again next year. Daisy and Mary secretly and solemnly both pulled a yellow garter onto their left leg. And it worked: they were both proposed to within the year! Daisy had two offers of marriage the next year as well. Did the dancing classes and the French lessons have something to do with it?
As it turned out, superstition only went so far. Daisy and Mary needed more help convincing their parents to allow them to marry the men of their dreams than they did finding men to propose to them. Horoscopes, cabbages, horseshoes, and yellow garters were powerless in the face of parental disapproval.