Old Maids and Old Bachelors:

A Fate Worst Than Death

LEGENDS OF WOBURN OLD MAID & OLD BACHELORS SOCIAL Patricia Jacques

Regardless of how much more we feel we need to learn, from time to time, it’s a good idea to take stock and be thankful for how far we have come as a civilization. Old customs, thoughts and morays provide the perfect peek into the rituals of the past to keep modern times in perspective. From deciphering this entertaining excerpt, culled from “Legends of Woburn,” written by L. Parker Converse, it’s enlightening to realize how single folks had it really tough. It’s a testament to humanity’s resilience, that the world managed to evolve to what it is today.

“To be an old maid or old bachelor was the worst fate that could befal one then. It amounted to social ostracism.

LEGENDS OF WOBURN OLD MAID & OLD BACHELORS Social Pariah

“To be an old maid or old bachelor was the worst fate that could befal one then. It amounted to social ostracism.

How could she do without a housekeeper or how could he [be] without a housekeeper, and in such case, neither was allowed, for in some places, where the rule was strict, they even could not live just where they pleased, but had their locations assigned them by the Court, like criminals let out on probation, who needed watching till they got a mate, sometimes in Bachelors or Old Maid’s Row, when they were numerous or very bad. And then again, in some places, these ” Lone Men ” paid a tax for the misery of liv- ing single, while luckily the girls escaped the dose. 

These being ” suspected ones,” all watchmen, tithing-men and constables had ” close watch” to see these ”sneaking ones” did do no wrong; so those who lived in “Lone Man’s Row,” close peeped at those in ”Old Maid’s Lane;” while ”Old Maid Laners” watched their chance, to fire their ” Sheep’s Eye Darts” across the street, at those so willing, anxious to be caught, and thus escape their hated social bonds.

Bachelors loitering WEB

So such made short work of courting then, and liberty regained by getting tied, together with a lot to build upon, which some towns gave to such repentant souls : afterwards they were let alone to live in peace. So widows and widowers, old maids and bachelors, were scarce those days. 

REFERENCE | SOURCE

  • “Legends of Woburn,”  second series, Woburn Mass, printed for subscribers only, 1896, by  L. Parker Converse,  Glennon Archives, Woburn Public Library

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IMAGE CREDITS

  • Digital collage designed by Patricia Jacques
  • Public domain graphics acquired through Free-images.com, canvas.com and Pixabay.com