Sleigh-Riding Civil War Style

Currier & Ives Sleighing in NYC Park http://americancivilwarvoice.orgBrr. It’s January and the snow is falling at least in some parts of the world. Are you looking out your window right now? Are you lucky enough to see expanses of white snow and to be dreaming of riding with your beau in a one-horse sleigh?

How romantic you might be thinking. However, Jennie Juneiana* writing in her book Talks on Women’s Topics in 1864 firmly believes that sleighs are not for lovers. She provides the following suggestions for a successful sleigh ride on the streets of New York.

SLEIGH-RIDING is one of those things which depend very much upon circumstances for their interest. The mere act simply derives whatever pleasure it possesses from the swiftness of motion and the electricity of the atmosphere, but its great and principal charm is sociability. It is not adapted to lovers at all. They are generally satisfied, or profess to be, that the present moment should last forever. They like the “long, lingering walk” in the summer’s twilight, or the quiet happiness of a tete-a-tete by the winter fireside, and have no desire to be whisked off” like a flash of lightning, deposited in unknown snow-banks, and their soft whispers lost in the jingle of the bells. It is well known, moreover, that lovers are good for nothing so far as eating is concerned, and a sleigh-ride is nothing without a half-way house, where supper, dancing, and — if it is an old-fashioned party — blind-man’s-buff can be indulged in ad libitum.

The first requisite for a sleigh-ride is plenty of sleigh; second, plenty of buffalo robes; third, plenty of bells; fourth, plenty of people (but no engaged ones); fifth, plenty of snow; sixth, plenty of room and plenty of supper at the stopping place. These conditions fulfilled, it would be very hard luck indeed that did not result in a merry, old-fashioned ride.

One cannot conceive of a quiet sleigh-ride, or a lonely sleigh-ride, or a sleigh-ride in state, with powdered footman and coachman. One absolutely pities an elegantly dressed woman, doubled up alone in her grandeur and buffalo robes, with only a driver perched up on the front seat, as they are sometimes seen on Broadway and Fifth Avenue. One cannot help wondering if the poor thing has no friends that she could have called for and packed in the empty seats — friends who have neither sleighs nor driver at their command, and whose keen enjoyment of the unlooked-for pleasure would be worth much more to the pampered child of fortune than her own solitary, melancholy ride.

It is only the young, however, whose excited imaginations make them insensible to cold or inconvenience, that can thoroughly enjoy a sleigh-ride. If lovers are unfitted for it, married people are still more so. With them it can only be a jog-trot performance, hurried to a conclusion because the children will either take cold or are crying at home. All the sleigh-riding of a lifetime should be accomplished before passing the boundary of the twentieth birthday, and only the memory kept as a charm and a joy forever. (pp 218-219)

*Jennie Juneiana was the pen name of Jane Cunningham Cody, a groundbreaking newswoman who wrote women’s columns in numerous magazines and newspapers. She was the founder of The Women’s Press Club of New York and several magazines for women. 


2 thoughts on “Sleigh-Riding Civil War Style

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  1. I love this lady’s assessment of the sleigh ride. It made me smile as the phrasing conjured up a voice in my head of the time and the moment. Imagine the recommendation of how to have a perfect sleigh ride vs. how to plan a perfect 2016 date? What fun this quote is!!


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