MOREAU DE ST. MERY'S
I was forgetting to say that when there are women in
[travelling] stages, they are not obliged to share in the expense
incurred for wine, liquors or other spirituous drinks served with
a meal. Politeness requires this expense to be borne entirely
by the men. I will whisper this: that this courtesy is some-
times extended to courtesans who figure that a stage can be
made to serve purposes quite foreign to modesty, a virtue
which is neither their charm nor their companion.
One would hardly think that in a city like New
recently sprung into being, morals would already show one
mark of the vilest corruption. In many parts of the city
whole sections of streets are given over to street-walkers for
the plying of their profession; there are many houses of de-
bauchery in a locality which for some reason unknown to me
is called "Holy Ground" by the irreligious; and in addition
women of every color can be found in the streets, particu-
larly after ten o'clock at night, soliciting men and proudly
flaunting their licentiousness in the most shameless
American men, generally speaking, are tall and thin,
cially the Quakers, but they seem to have no strength. They
are listless, those in the towns even more than the others.
Neither sex can boast a complexion. They are brave, but
they lack drive. Indifferent toward almost everything, they
sometimes behave in a manner that suggests real energy;
then follow it with a "Oh-to-hell-with-it" attitude which
shows that they seldom feel genuine enthusiasm.
Their manner of living is always the same. They
at nine o'clock on ham or salt fish, herring, for example,
which is accompanied by coffee or tea, and slices of toasted
or untoasted bread spread with butter.
2. White Women.--We will begin our observations con-
cerning this beautiful sex with a flattering and happy state-
ment. An American woman, no matter what her rank or
where she was born, never--except as a result of an accident
--displays one of those faces so common among the lower
orders of Europe and even of France: repulsive faces with
bloodshot or bleary eyes and offensively deformed features.
If one encounters such a face in America, he can safely jump
to the conclusion that it was imported from another land:
never the product of a soil so favorable to womankind.
American women are pretty, and those of Philadelphia
prettiest of all, and generally acknowledged to be superior
to any others on the continent. Philadelphia has thousands
of them between the ages of fourteen and eighteen; and
proof of this can be had on any fine winter day on the north
sidewalk of Market Street between Third and Fifth streets.
There one can see four hundred young persons, each of
whom would certainly be followed on any Paris promenade.
This tempting state of affairs is one which no other city in
the world could offer in like degree.
But they soon grow pale, and suffer almost
from an inconvenience which is known to be highly destruc-
tive to the preservation of a woman's freshness and youth.
Their hair is scanty, their teeth bad; and all the little details
which adorn beauty, or rather which join to create it, soon
fail most of them. In short, while charming and adorable at
fifteen, they are faded at twenty-three, old at thirty-five,
decrepit at forty or forty-five. They are subject to nervous
illnesses and to those which the English call [four illegible
English words] which is extremely frequent.
Few people live to be a hundred in the United
among the gravestones of Philadelphia cemeteries there is
only one of a person who lived to be ninety. Most people die
between thirty-five and forty-five....
Girls ordinarily mature in Philadelphia at the
age of four-
teen, and reach that period without unusual symptoms.
reproductive faculty usually ceases between forty and
forty-five; and this period, so dangerous in our climates, has
no dangerous consequences in America.
Young girls never appear at social gatherings until
have reached puberty.
As they are usually large for their age, one is
struck by the
tall and pretty young girls one sees in the streets, going and
coming from school. They wear their hair long, and skirts
with closed seams. But when nubility has arrived they put
their hair with a comb, and the back of the skirt has a
placket. At this time they meet everybody at tea, become
their own mistresses, and can go walking alone and have
They invariably make their own choice of a suitor,
parents raise no objection because that's the custom of the
country. The suitor comes into the house when he wishes;
goes on walks with his loved one whenever he desires. On
Sunday he often takes her out in a cabriolet, and brings her
back in the evening without anyone wanting to know where
Philadelphia women are markedly extravagant in
purchase of ribbons, shoes and negligees of lawn and muslin.
However, they still have no gauze or lace, and almost no
artificial flowers. They have a habit, which they think is
stylish, of letting the men pay for what they buy in the
shops, and of forgetting to pay them back.
They are greatly addicted to finery and have a
sire to display themselves--a desire resulting from and in-
flamed by their love of adornment. They cannot, however,
imitate that elegance of style possessed by Frenchwomen.
All except those of the highest position go to market Tues-
day and Friday evenings (the evenings before market days)
dressed for dancing.
After eighteen years old they lose their charms, and
Their breasts, never large, already have vanished. It is
that many of them, because of a notion as harmful as it is
ridiculous, flatten and compress those female charms with
which the sex has been endowed by Nature....
Although in general one is conscious of widespread
esty in Philadelphia, the customs are not particularly pure,
and the disregard on the part of some parents for the man-
ner in which their daughters form relationships to which
they, the parents, have not given their approval is an en-
couragement of indiscretions which, however, are not the
result of love, since American women are not affectionate.
But they are very ridiculous in their aversion
certain words pronounced; and this scruple is frequently a
confession of too much knowledge, rather than of ignorance.
A woman made her brother leave the room while she
changed the diaper of her own son, aged five weeks, although
women and young girls were present.
The adoption in this city of French styles in dress
manner does not, however, indicate that it has any marked
affection for the French nation, and its residents have no
hesitation in charging the French higher prices and higher
rents than anyone else.
The young ladies commonly stick to their first
less circumstances more or less unavoidable necessitate the
absence of the first, which may then result in their making
a second choice. The same situation may arise several times,
always with the same result.
If the suitor continues to reside in the same
place, he is
always bound by the same chains unless he is criminally in-
constant and, having drained the delights of happiness, flees
and laughs at the tears of the loved one he has betrayed.
But if the dastardly deceiver should seduce a married
woman, he is universally execrated and watched
he may go in the United States; and never, never will he ever
be able to obtain in this vast country any situation, any posi-
tion, not even that of watchman or patroller of the streets.
It is true that virtue is the result of habit or of
tion. A young woman trusts in her suitor's delicacy and
charges him with maintaining for her a respect which she is
not always able to command. Each day both of them are
entrusted to no one but each other. Since the young lady
must wait for her servant, who leaves the house as soon as
night has arrived and cannot be persuaded to return until
eleven-thirty or midnight, her only protection is her suitor.
Her father, her mother, her entire family have gone to bed.
The suitor and his mistress remain alone; and sometimes,
when the servant returns, she finds them asleep and the
candle out, such is the frigidity of love in this country.
When a young lady notices that her chosen one is
cold, she reproaches him most outrageously in public; and if
another young lady, either through ignorance or by desire,
seeks to supplant her, she tells the latter that she has rights
which she has no intention of giving up.
They are cold and without passion, however, and--a
that is unpermissible except in an uncontrollable delirium--
they endure the company of their lovers for whole hours
without being sufficiently moved to change their expression.
They always act as though everything they do is done for a
When one considers the unlimited liberty which
ladies enjoy, one is astonished by their universal eagerness to
be married, to become wives who will for the most part be
nothing but housekeepers of their husbands' homes. But this
eagerness is just another exhibition of self-love, inspired by
the fear that she who does not marry will be thought to
have some fault that disgusted her suitors.
They think, too, that French women have some peculiar
talent because of the way in which men of their own
make efforts to please them, especially by their politeness.
Marriages are all the more easy as sometimes they
in a hurry, and many of them are secret.
I am going to say something that is almost
These women, without real love and without passions, give
themselves up at an early age to the enjoyment of them-
selves; and they are not at all strangers to being willing to
seek unnatural pleasures with persons of their own sex.
Among common people, at a tavern-keeper's, for
ple, or at a small shopkeeper's, the daughter of the house,
when no longer a child, sleeps with the servant. That is to
say, from her eighth to her tenth year she may have shared
the bed of fifty or sixty creatures of whom nothing is known
except their names. They may be dirty, unhealthy, subject
to a communicable disease of more or less seriousness, and
possessors of habits that could be disastrous to young per-
When a young woman marries, she enters a wholly
ent existence. She is no longer a giddy young person, a but-
terfly who denies herself nothing and whose only laws are
her whims and her suitor's wish. She now lives only for her
husband, and to devote herself without surcease to the care
of her household and her home. In short, she is no more than
a housekeeper. To put it more correctly, she is often the
and only servant.
American women carve meat with a great deal of ele-
gance, and carving skill that would seem astounding in a
French woman is commonplace to them. They also prepare
pastries with great success.
At Philadelphia, starting the day after their
bride serves punch and cold meats for three successive morn-
ings to all her friends and all those who wish to give them-
selves that title. Then, on the three following days, the
serves tea in the evening, and her friends and acquaintances
attend, each one trying to outdo the other in the
of their apparel. The honors are done by her young relatives,
or by friends of the bride, who are called bridesmaids. So
go the outward rejoicings of the marriage feast. The mistress
of the house busies herself with all the details, carving and
serving at table.
If she has had the misfortune to lose her chastity,
already altered health finds new dangers in the very pleasures
of matrimony. The more her husband is capable of multiply-
ing them, the more her health may suffer, most of all when
she has a child; for sometimes while still nursing it, or as
soon as it is weaned, she has already conceived another.
The women don't dress warmly, their food is bad, and
they make too much use of over-hot tea. On the other hand,
false modesty prevents them from admitting infirmities of
which the husband has never been told and which become
They also have bad teeth, weak stomachs, minor
which wither or at least tarnish their beauty; sometimes a
neglected fault results in skin eruptions.
Women wash their feet with cold water during menstru-
ation, and mothers do not like to teach children why this
imprudence is dangerous, because they do not wish, they say,
to discuss such things with them.
They take no precaution against changes of climate,
even those which cleanliness seems to require. They wear
only one colored skirt which they put on during menstrua-
tion, and which serves always in the same capacity until it
must be thrown away. Men have given them a disgusting
name. They consider French women most reprehensible for
having a different custom, and washing the linen thus used.
The American women divide their whole body in two
parts; from the top to the waist is stomach; from there to
the foot is ankles.
Let us imagine the embarrassment of the doctor who
guess from such a description the nature and especially
location of an illness! He is forbidden the slightest touch;
his patient, even at the risk of her life, leaves him in the
Here is an example: A young woman was nursing her
child. One of her breasts had a crack. She was suffering
dreadfully from it, but only complained to her doctor that
she had pains in her stomach, and her trouble continued to
A woman neighbor, seeing this woman fading away,
tioned her. She told her the truth, and even went so far as to
show her the ailing breast. But when her friend urged her
let the doctor see it, she was refused.
Frightened by the danger, she spoke to me about
it. I de-
termined to speak to this woman about her condition, using
all the discretion demanded by the most violent prejudice,
and tell her of the risk she was running, and of the death
with which her condition threatened her much-loved little
boy. I argued that she was failing in the most sacred duties
of nature and religion; and finally I told her that her ob-
stinacy was truly suicide.
Speaking as a husband and father, I used such
that the patient was convinced, and promised to entrust her-
self to the enlightened care of the doctor.
She did it and, after long treatment, recovered
but with this result: although she knew that she owed me
the saving of her life and that of her child, this young mother
never spoke to me again and didn't even wish to acknowl-
edge my existence.
In their opinion French women are not clean because
dress in such a way that their chemises can be seen.
I am ashamed to say that it is exactly because
women are so sensitive about these garments, and because
they have so few of them and change them so seldom, that
they are guilty of not keeping them clean, and of
them with marks of that need to which Nature has subjected
American women carefully wash their faces and hands,
not their mouths, seldom their feet and even more seldom
When a Philadelphia woman bears a child, her husband
never present. He cannot enter the room until an hour after
During the first week the mother receives only near
tions, intimate friends, old women, but never men or young
The second week she receives the rest of her family
acquaintances, but no man.
The third week is for the receiving of ceremonious
and occasionally a man who has asked and obtained permis-
sion comes in with his wife.
The fourth week everybody is admitted without
tion, and after that the woman takes up her accustomed
work. I repeat that in Philadelphia a husband resumes con-
jugal relations with his nursing wife a month after the
A gentleman gives his arm to young ladies but not to
mothers, who, even if he offers, relegate him to the young
A husband will offer his arm to his wife, but does
bother about other women.
There are no casual runnings in and out, in American
homes. Never does one walk into a woman's bedroom.
One frequently sees in the newspapers notices of hus-
bands requesting that no further credit be given to their
wives, who have left their bed and board.
One very remarkable and very important thing is
spect in which married women are held, and the virtuous
conduct of almost all.
This respect is demonstrated in one particularly
worthy manner. I have spoken of the unrestrained life of
the young girls. Before their marriage several suitors may
possibly have enjoyed a dangerous freedom in their company.
But once they have pledged their faith to a husband, no mat-
ter how many times they may meet one or all of their for-
mer suitors, never will a word which might wound the ears
of the wife or make her blush escape from the mouth of
one of them. This is perhaps a unique state of affairs: a
try in which love is silent where marriage exists.
In spite of conjugal customs which would seem to
a state of happiness, they do not produce the happiness
which would be expected to result, nor tenderness for chil-
dren, nor love on the children's part.
This is evidenced by the multiplicity of second
and the manner in which children of different beds live in
the same house. The men in particular remarry oftenest;
and a delay of six weeks between the loss of a wife and the
choice of another is the limit of their outward expression
The children live with each other with neither
nor jealousy. They never have to complain about favoritism
because none of them ever get it.
Divorce is obtained with scandalous ease.
From this alone
one can judge the extent of loose habits. The conjugal union
is the fountainhead of all family relations; and since it is one
of the strongest ties in the social order, it is impossible that
these ties and relationships shouldn't be weakened or de-
stroyed by easy divorce.
All American girls or women are fond of dancing,
is one of their greatest pleasures. The men like it almost as
much. They indulge in this pleasure, either in the morning,
from eight to eleven, or the evening from the end of the
day far into the night.
I believe I have already said elsewhere that
the inhabitants of the United States, is less a matter of
display than it is of true enjoyment. At the same dance you
will see a grandfather, his son and his grandson, but more
often still the grandmother, her daughter and her grand-
daughter. If a Frenchman comments upon this with surprise,
he is told that each one dances for his own amusement, and
not because it's the thing to do.
Bastards are extremely common in Philadelphia.
two principal reasons for this. In the first place, the city is
full of religious sects, but none of them give their clergy-
men any authority to enforce obedience. Consequently
there is no way of inspiring shame in women who become
mothers for no reason except the pleasure they get out of
it. In the second place, once an illegitimate child is twelve
months old, a mother can disembarrass herself of him by
farming him out for twenty-one years. This makes it pos-
sible for her to commit the same sin for a second time. It
never occurs to her that her child can never know her, and
that the whole business is shameful. Needless to say, when
mothers have such ideas and are so heartless, abortion is sel-
dom resorted to.
Before the Revolution, because of the great numbers
scalawags and prostitutes who were coming from London,
Franklin put an open letter to the King of England in his
Philadelphia Gazette, January 13, 1763, saying that in return
he was sending the King an equivalent present of several
rattlesnakes with which to stock his gardens. And after the
peace of 1783 a whole shipload of condemned criminals were
sent over by the English, and promptly sent back to England....
Bondwomen or bond girls have the right to charge
masters with seduction if the occasion arises.
The only proof they need, as in the case of any
woman, is their own legal statement. If the case is proved, the
master is liable for the support of the child and has to pay
a fine for fornication or adultery--unless the servant yielded
to him of her own free will, in which case she has no more
claim against him than any other woman.
Women, those of color especially, seduce young white
girls and sell them to houses used for corrupt practices. The
price for such a transaction is ordinarily thirty dollars (one
hundred and eighty francs), of which the purveyor keeps
the better part.
French colored women live in the most obnoxious luxury in
Philadelphia, and since this luxury can only be provided by the
French and by former French colonials, the contrast of their
condition with the misery of the mass of their compatriots is
In Philadelphia I knew a rich man's widow in whose home
a Frenchman lodged. This woman, who had a most modest
demeanor and was highly regarded in the city, was thirty-two
years old. She gave every privilege to this Frenchman, who
knew her weakness for porcelains. Her eldest daughter, thir-
teen years old, gave herself to the same man for a quarter of
a dollar. A girl of eight years allowed every sort of indecency
for twelve and a half cents.
In the "Back Countries" and more remote sections,
girls accede almost without hesitation to all caresses of men
whom they have seen that day for the first time, and whom
they will never see again. When Vaustable's squadron was
in Hampton Roads (at which time I was also in Virginia)
Frenchmen found that in outlying country districts young
girls allowed and conceded everything except the final fa-
vor for thirty sous (quarter of a dollar).
On the evening of October 16, 1793, a mob formed in
Paul Place in New York. The house of Mother Carey, public
procuress, was wrecked and torn down, and the furniture
broken. Another house of the same sort, run by Mother Giles,
suffered the same fate. People who were stationed in the first
to defend it fired on the assailants and wounded three, one
dangerously. The Mayor was insulted and threatened when
he attempted to make the mob disperse.
At Portsmouth, Virginia, there are prostitutes
all the allurements which men find attractive, but they want
only to drink liquor. They only wash themselves in very hot
Sailors' wives sold themselves, preferably to
Such customs go hand in hand with peculiarly
tious ideas. Philadelphia hairdressers united and petitioned
the Mayor to forbid hairdressing on Sunday. This was in
1793. The French and American hairdressers signed, but
three Spanish barbers of soldiers at the port failed to give the
unanimity which the Mayor had demanded and one contin-
ued to hairdress on Sunday.
When a Quakeress feels lecherous impulses, she
her husband of it, and does her best to make him share her
The daughters of Quakers are extremely imprudent, and
frequently get into trouble.
Quaker youths are frequent visitors in the houses of
fame, which have multiplied in Philadelphia and are fre-
quented at all hours. There is even a certain
gentleman who leaves his horse tied to the post outside one of
these houses, so that everyone knows when he is there and
exactly how long he stays.
There are streetwalkers of every color.
When a Quakeress violates the conjugal bond--which is
only in rare cases--it is, she says, the evil spirit which is act-
ing; and if she adds that she repents, the fault is supposed
to be effaced. American women would not perhaps be very
badly represented by the portrait that Jean Jacques drew of
Mme. de Varens.14
In Virginia women visit each other in their homes
periods, even when they live only short distances apart--
sometimes in the same town.
Since 1806 there are streetwalkers of a new sort
delphia. These are very young and very pretty girls, elegantly
dressed, who promenade two by two, arm in arm and walking
very rapidly, at an hour which indicates that they aren't just
out for a stroll. They are found most commonly on the
south side of Market Street beginning at Fourth Street and
coming up this street. Anyone who accosts them is taken to
their home. They pretend to be small dressmakers. They ful-
fill every desire for two dollars, half of which is supposed to
pay for the use of the room.
Another sort is also becoming quite common.
usually well along in age, are known to be procuresses. Any-
one taken to their houses by a reliable friend asks permission
to visit them sometime. If these duennas are alone, they are
asked to use their influence to obtain a friend who is free,
and the girl is chosen by them. Sometimes the duennas them-
selves suggest a desirable companion.
14 Jean Jacques Rousseau was the
acknowledged lover of Mme. de
Varens. The portrait that Rousseau drew of
her is in the Confessions, and
pictures a good-natured, sentimental, fairly
intelligent woman given to
taking her pleasures wherever she found them.
Saintsbury calls her "nomi-
nally a converted protestant ... in reality, as many
women of her time
were, a kind of deist, with a theory of noble sentiment
and a practice of
libertinism tempered by good nature."
The duennas contact the desired person and report as
whether or not there is any hope. They arrange for women
or young girls whom they debauch in this manner to come
to their house for the meeting, and such meetings can be re-
peated as often as desired. If the patron wants a different
woman, the duenna provides her with equal complaisance.
On each occasion of this sort, the lady who
favors is paid three dollars, and she in turn gives the pro-
curess a dollar for her trouble.
If one's desires run to a beautiful person of high
or one more difficult to persuade, or one supposed to be a
novice at love, higher prices must be paid, either in money
or in gifts.
During the entire diversion, the innocent young
petually and in cold blood demands a larger gift, on the
ground that the duenna will require from her a much heavier
reward for keeping silent. This is the only language her ten-
But never during your voluptuous ecstasy should you
low yourself to enthuse over the treasures you are receiving,
because you will get a reply you don't expect--that she
never dreamed when she yielded to your desires that she
would be treated like an unchaste person; and your pocket-
book would again have to be used to dry the flood of tears
brought on by such truly virginal modesty.
You would encounter a greater and more dangerous
if you should meet your sweet friend anywhere except at
the place of assignation, and give any signs of knowing her.
She would maintain an imperturbable sang-froid, and if you
insisted on molesting her, especially on the street, every-
body would rush to her assistance and only flight would save
you from being assaulted.
It is in a country such as this that syringes, when
ported by French colonists, seemed a hideous object. Later
they were put on sale by American apothecaries.
Quakers were responsible for this change, and were the first
adopters of this custom.
There is a house in New York where a woman had found
the detestable secret of attracting young persons of the fair
sex. She diligently avoided letting Frenchmen be admitted,
One of the latter, having learned from a wealthy merchant
all the details of this house of corruption, presented himself
there, posing as a foreigner from a country whose language
he spoke marvelously.15
So well did he play his role that he was promised a
beauty, provided he would swear eternal silence. Everything
was discussed and agreed upon. The young innocent arrived.
Imagine the amazement of the young man when he recog-
nized the daughter of the home to which he had brought a
letter of introduction, the celestial Venus with whom he had
What was he to do? Already the matter had gone
far to retreat, and so the final step was taken and happi-
ness put a seal upon his lips.
To conclude from what I have reported that there
not, in the United States, any individuals who are in every
respect virtuous and worthy of the veneration of all would
be to understand me badly and would be a false interpre-
But I say that the customs which prevail there are
the most estimable, and here is proof of it:
When Europeans first came to live in the United
their customs were so respectable that lovers were per-
mitted a wrapping-up or engagement.16 A
whose conduct had been carefully observed, received from
the parents of his loved one occasional permission over a
period of as long as ten years to share the bed of her whom he
cherished. In spite of this long trial, no virtue was lost, and
15 I.e., he pretended he wasn't
the suitor was rewarded for his devotion and delicacy by re-
ceiving in marriage the one he had so religiously respected.
The loving fiancÃ©e became the honored and faithful wife of
a husband whom she had thus nursed along to a condition
of complete happiness. But this custom, which is not exactly
suited to our French ways, has grown more and more rare,
and is no longer encountered except in the uttermost con-
fines of Northern states, where it only exists as a freak.
Forty years ago some Frenchmen who traveled through
these Northern provinces during the war were permitted
as a matter of course to share beds where innocence alone
reposed, and I have heard some of them say that it was
not for their cold bedfellow that the ordeal had been so diffi-
cult. But one word of accusation from a young girl, if they
had ventured on any indiscretion, could have endangered
But to the mind of Americans, that which without
tion denotes the greatest superiority is the possession of a
carriage. Women especially desire them to a degree that ap-
proaches delirium; and a woman who owns one is very certain
that no other woman who lacks a carriage will ever be con-
sidered, or ever become, her equal.
Moreau De St. Mery's American Journey [1793-1798], translated
and edited by Kenneth and Anna Roberts,
Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1947.
Use of this material is being done in accordance with the "Fair use"
doctrine of U.S. copyright law.
This page prepared by Thomas Pollock, aka Spartacus, Editor of
The Men's Tribune.