Tag Archives: Flirting

“A straight shirttail for home”

An all-too-common crinoline fire (Wellcome Collection CC BY)

William Weldon was 22 when he left his mother, father and 16-year-old brother Vachel in Ballard County, Kentucky and struck out for Arkansas in 1848.  The entire family was on the lookout for opportunities elsewhere: Vachel would decamp for Texas in 1854, and his widowed father followed. 

Five months into his absence, however, William was still anxious to hear all the news from back home in Kentucky—marriages, crops, religious conversions, and so on. But he had his own story to tell about a recent test of his gallantry.  It involved a young lady, “Modest, Handsome, & sensable,” but afflicted with “a disease which is very common in Kentucky called the flirts.”  Indeed, Weldon wrote in a letter, “Miss Fanny” was really on her game one “coald dry day,” pausing only briefly from her non-stop coquetry to pose herself dangerously close to the fireplace.  Weldon considered warning her but thought, no worries, she’ll “flirt away soon.” 

He was wrong.  Fanny’s dress, no doubt a flammable mix of crinoline, muslin and gauze, suddenly ignited, and “she broke for the door with the blaze higher than her head.”  With no water handy, and without time to consider what a gentleman should do in such circumstances, Weldon surrendered to the “painful necessity” of tearing off her burning clothes.  “Just think of a young man stripping a lady in company,” he wrote sheepishly.  But it was all over quickly and Miss Fanny, her dignity no doubt as charred as her wardrobe, “made a straight shirttail for home.” 

William Weldon’s letter telling of his rescue of Fanny the Flirt is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid and typescript.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Flirting With Disaster

Fannie the FlirtThe British diarist Charles Lamb noted that on Valentine’s Day 1830 “the weary two-penny postman sinks beneath a load of delicate embarrassments not his own.”  The valentine card has steadfastly remained a cherished method of communicating one’s amorous affections for others.  The Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion valentine cards will be sent this year, the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas.

On of the most cherished valentines in the Manuscripts and Folklife Archives section of the WKU Special Collections Library was sent from an unidentified suitor to Fannie Morton Bryan (1870-1965), an avowed flirt of Russeville, Kentucky.  She often noted her flirting exploits in her diary.  After receiving a lovely pair of sugar tongs from a Mr. Bradshaw in 1889, she wrote:  “I am almost tempted to flirt with him.  O Fan! Fan!  Why can’t you behave yourself.  Why do you want to make the boys suffer so?  I try to help it but it seems second nature with me to make others suffer.  I almost feel as though that was my mission on earth.”

The valentine pictured here was sent to Fannie in 1902, when she was well past the acceptable age for marriage.  An image of a man dangling from a fishing pole line can be seen on the valentine’s right margin, and above it the sender wrote:  “One of the victims.”  The valentine proved apocryphal when it predicted “For flirts, whene’er their beauty fades, Recruit the army of Old Maids!”  Despite Fannie’s prowress as a flirt in her younger days, she died an old maid.  She taught school in Logan County until 1940 and passed away in 1965.  To see a finding aid to the Fannie Morton Bryan Collection click here.

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