A lot of weird stuff went down during the Victorian era, thanks in large part to the spirit of exploration and innovation that persisted during the period. Despite Victorian thinkers' pioneering attitudes, death and disease loomed around every corner. How is it that the same epoch that birthed Darwin's theory of evolution also popularized green wallpaper and clothing laced with poisonous arsenic? These dichotomies created a culture of contradictions, one fueled by population booms, large class divides, and strict moral codes.
While history books focus on the Industrial Revolution, Queen Victoria's political reign, and all the social reforms that defined the era, day-to-day life for Victorians lent itself to some very singular customs and norms - ranging from wacky to fatal. Some of these Victorian habits are so outlandish that they don't seem real at all. In fact, they sound positively fictitious.
They Had Mail Delivered 12 Times A Day
Around the 1840s, both England and America introduced cheap, flat rates for postage that led to a surge in letter exchanges. London was the epicenter of this postal revolution, boasting a mail service that traveled to homes 12 times a day. As historian Catherine J. Golden puts it in her book Posting It: The Victorian Revolution in Letter Writing, "In London, people complained if a letter didn’t arrive in a couple of hours."
Victorians sent much more than words to each other. It wasn't uncommon for a recipient to find a package full of bugs, tree cuttings, or manure on their doorstep.8214Sounds positively fictitious?
Princess Alexandra Of Denmark Set A Trend With Her Rheumatic Fever Limp
London was the epicenter of fashion in the 19th century. Corsets, lace trim, and long embroidered skirts flooded the streets of high-end districts. So, too, did the Alexandra Limp.
The bourgeoisie looked to royalty for stylistic inspiration. When Alexandra of Denmark, the wife of the Prince of Wales, gained a noticeable limp after a bout of rheumatic fever, society women followed suit. The limping ladies grew in such numbers that shoemakers started selling pairs of mismatched heels.
Newspapers at the time didn't hold back from passing severe judgment on this trend, including The Dundee Courier and Argus:
Some remarkably foolish things have been done in imitation of royalty, but this is an act which involves a spice of wickedness as well as of folly.7512Sounds positively fictitious?
Victorian Doctors Prescribed Men Beards To Keep Healthy
Doctors were full of zany ideas in the 19th century, but few of them top the belief that men with beards were healthier than those without them. Medical historian Adam Withey has written extensively about the beard-growing craze that peaked during the middle of the Victorian era. As he puts it:
The Victorian obsession with air quality saw the beard promoted as a sort of filter. A thick beard, it was reasoned, would capture the impurities before they could get inside the body.
In the 1800s, burning coal for heat in homes was ordinary, even though it led to insanely high levels of pollution. The poor air quality was made even worse by factories. These days, doctors know beards do more to trap than filter out toxins. That hasn't stopped millions of people from participating in No-Shave November, though.6012Sounds positively fictitious?
Mini Golf Was Invented For Victorian Women Because They Couldn’t Play Real Golf
What are now antiquated ideas about women kept them from participating in one of the period's favorite sports: golf. Invented in medieval Scotland, golf remains a popular outdoor activity.
Mini golf, also known as putt-putt, is a simpler version of golf that came about during the Victorian era. Since women weren't allowed to play side-by-side with men, a group of Scottish women founded the Ladies' Putting Club of St. Andrews in 1867.
It was a faux pas for women to swing a golf club past their shoulders, making it impossible for female players to compete on larger courses that required longer shots. The truncated course at St. Andrews spawned a fad that made its way across the pond to America.5112Sounds positively fictitious?