Celebrating Valentine’s Day all spring long, “The Etiquette of Courtship,” a themed tour, “was inspired from the history of the Hawkins House itself,” says Rachel Smith, assistant director and curator of collections for the Rogers Historical Museum. “When Lizzie Hawkins lived in the house, she was courted by Finis Miller, whom she married in 1910. Both their courtship and their wedding played out in the front parlor of the Hawkins House. So, this was the perfect space to explore the history of courtship in the early 1900s. Having this exhibit overlap with Valentine’s Day really brings out the romance!”
Lizzie Hawkins, says Smith, was an accomplished musician who was well known locally as a singer and music teacher. Miller had been born in Rogers, where his father had established the first dry goods store and grocery.
“On April 23, 1910, Lizzie Hawkins and Finis Miller were married in the parlor” of the Hawkins House, Smith recounts. “A newspaper article reported that Lizzie and Finis were considered to be ‘among the best and most popular young people of Rogers.’ Finis worked for the Frisco Railroad, later became the local agent for the U.S. Express Company, and last worked as a cashier at Farmer’s State Bank. The couple had no children.”
Their successful courtship required navigation of a host of rules and social expectations illustrated throughout the Hawkins House tour, beginning in the kitchen, where “training for married life began at an early age. Young girls learned the skills of cooking, sewing, cleaning, doing laundry and caring for younger siblings,” the tour explains. “These were considered essential skills for a housewife and the key to a happy home.
“For young men, courtship demanded social grace to call at a lady’s house and follow all appropriate etiquette when visiting or out in public. It also demanded that he woo her through romantic gestures and love letters.”
In the front parlor, custom dictated a young lady receive a gentleman caller, under the watchful eyes and ears of her mother.
“They might enjoy tea and refreshments, read or play games, sit on the porch, or even play the piano,” the tour states. “The family was still in earshot — perhaps the curtain was pulled closed, but the couple was rarely ever truly alone. When calling on a lady, appropriate gifts included valentines, flowers and candy,” but etiquette strictly regulated those gifts. “One 1908 advice column argued, ‘visits and notes are as complimentary as presents… Thank him for his kindness, but say you have made it a rule not to accept presents from men.’ A woman might give something handmade in return.”
As the relationship advanced, the couple might send love letters and eventually there would be a proposal, asking her parents for approval, an engagement ring and public announcements. In the meantime, the bride-to-be was preparing her trousseau — her wedding dress and the other clothes, linens, etc., she would take to her new home.
“One of the charming aspects of courtship was that it took place largely in the home of the woman,” Smith says. “A young man visited the woman at her family home and got to know her and her family in that casual and cozy environment. There were no dates, expensive dinners, cab fare and theater tickets. When ‘dating’ began to replace courtship, men complained of the incredible expense of taking a young woman out!
“On the other hand, much of the etiquette of courtship was very strict and might seem unnecessarily formal to us today. [And] for a woman, marriage was also seen as one of the greatest moments of her life. Featured in the exhibit, a series of art prints from 1911 reveal the first two of the ‘Greatest Moments in a Girl’s Life,’ the proposal and the trousseau.
“I hope our visitors enjoy this sweet tour about love, but that they also appreciate the many social rules and expectations that dictated the formal process of courtship,” Smith says. “Some things, like giving Valentines and flowers, are the same, but many things are very different.”
‘The Etiquette of Courtship’:
Tours of the Hawkins House
WHEN — 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, through May 20
WHERE — Rogers Historical Museum
COST — Free
INFO — rogershistoricalmuseum.org, 621-1154