On Being a Lady

“What is a Lady” 

by Varina Jefferson Davis

(Note:  While the definition of a lady provided here may be a little dated, the basic concepts never go out of style.  Varina Davis’ recommendations here are as sound and applicable today as they were in the 19th century.)

A lady is simply someone who cares about herself and others.  She sees that her garments are clean and neatly pressed, her shoes are polished, and every button is in place.  She is neat and tidy even at the breakfast table and wishes to appear well to her own family.  She keeps her hair clean and well-groomed and never puts her hand to her hair to re-arrange it or search for loose pins while others can see.

A lady does not monopolize the conversation.  She does not talk of herself and her own affairs but listens with well-simulated interest to a story that bores her.  This is the mark of good breeding.  She does not sit apart with one or two friends but makes the gentle effort to assure a good time for all with pleasant conversation.  A lady does not say or do anything that will upset those around her or make them uncomfortable.

A lady does not let any man kiss her or put his arm around her unless she is engaged to be married to him, and even then she should be a little stingy with her favors.

A lady, when she brushes off her hat, does not forget to brush away the cobwebs…in her brain.  She does not conclude that every man who has said something pleasant to her has fallen in love with her.

A lady is possessed of refinement, which prevents her from all fidgeting, from playing with her handkerchief, her umbrella, her purse, or whatever may be in her hands.  When she sits down she remains quietly, her hands resting easily without movement and her whole figure is filled with repose.  She is calm, composed, self-controlled at all times, yet there are no airs about her.  These qualities are what keep her from talking and laughing loudly, and they prevent her from hurting the feelings of anyone.

A lady does not grow weary in well-doing but encourages herself by trying to live up to her ideal of a woman.

                                                                        Adapted by Martha Clippinger