Every-day Thoughts in Prose and Verse
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
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Traveling Alone.
In America,  women, old and young, feel free and
safe to travel alone if circumstances render it
    I know scores of charming, refined young girls
who have taken long journeys unattended, and met
with nothing but courtesy and polite attentions.
    This is a matter which puzzles the foreigner
greatly.  He cannot understand the independence
of the American girl in public, nor quite accept it,
much as he is pleased with her ease of manner,
charm and conversational powers in private life.
    The encroaching chaperon system will eventually,
perhaps, together with the comments and objections
of the foreigner, intimidate the American girl to a
great degree; but at present she feels herself able
to hold her own dignity and act as her own protector
on board a railroad train or an ocean steamer.
    Whenever a young girl sets forth upon a journey
of many hours or days, her wise guardians and
friends urge her to "keep her money out of sight,
and to avoid conversation with strangers."  "If
you want your window open or shut," says the
judicious father, "ask the brakeman or conductor,
and politely refuse the overtures of that officious
man who is always waiting to open a window and
conversation at the same time."
    This is excellent counsel!  I have given it per-
sonally to a young protege within a short period of
    Yet, the conventional idea that a young woman
alone, who converses with a strange man during a
journey, has committed a breach of etiquette and
good breeding, or exposed herself to disagreeable
comment or experience, is a most mistaken one.
There is a safe and unsafe way; a tasteful and
an undignified method of doing everything.
    It is absolute nonsense to surround one's self with
a barbed wire fence of conventional rules for every
occurrence in life.  Let us have the fence to be
sure; but devoid of barbs, and with occasional gates
of egress, here and there.
    There is no reason why the lady who enjoys gaz-
ing at scenery, and whose eyes permit her to read
on railroad trains, should engage in conversation
with strangers, if she does not wish to.  She can
always ignore the proffered attentions, and men
rarely expose themselves to a second rebuff.
    But because this woman finds other entertainment
more agreeable than a chat with a stranger, she
should not immediately sit in judgment upon her
neighbor opposite, who replies to some remark her
masculine seatmate has made, and passes an hour of
a long day in conversation.  It is possible--even
probable in this reign of the oculist--that her
neighbor's eyes are too weak for use on the train;
and nothing is more taxing or injurious to weak
eyes than gazing at flying fields, lakes, and fences
through a car window.
    The whole matter of propriety or impropriety,
danger or safety, lies in the motive and manner
with which the lady enters into conversation with a
stranger.  The man himself has no difficulty in
estimating a woman's motive from her manner.
He knows if she is a lady who simply chats to pass
away a tedious hour, and he knows if she is a
flirt at heart.
    I saw a well-dressed young woman enter a
crowded railroad car recently and seat herself
almost directly opposite me.
    She glanced carelessly about the car, as one is
liable to do, before settling herself to her journey,
yet there was a peculiar tilt of her head and
movement of her hands, and use of her eyes, which
intimated to one who had seen anything of the
world, that she was not a lady at heart.  It is impos-
sible to describe what this tell-tale peculiarity con-
sisted in, for she was conventionally attired, not in
the least artificialized, and not bold.  Yet, to my
eyes, she bore the mark of a woman of vulgar tastes
as plainly as though she had been branded.
    Every man who walked through the aisle of the
car turned and looked at her; without doubt she
construed their glances into admiration, but they
were not.
    Presently a man came through the car door, swept
his eyes down the length of the compartment, and
settled them upon the young woman whom I have
described.  Then he placed his baggage in the seat
immediately in front of her. "He will speak to her
in less than five minutes, and she will reply, "I
mentally commented; and in truth, only two minutes
elapsed before they were engaged in deep confab.
Snatches of their conversation reached me, proving
them to be utter strangers.  Many people looked
at the young woman askance, and with cause; not
because she was talking with a stranger, but because
of her manner and method of bringing it about.
    I have heard more than one pretty woman recount
her experiences in traveling, and lay much stress
on the assertion "that he selected the seat next her
out of the whole car, and how he tried to get
acquainted and failed," etc., etc.
    Now, I wish every sensible girl and woman in
the land would abandon the idea that it is her own
especial attraction or beauty which makes a stranger
attempt to show her attention.  Just let her pause
and consider the fact that were Nelly, Jennie,
Katherine or Dorthea of her acquaintance in the
same place, that man would do exactly as he is
doing in her case.  Whether he is merely lonesome
and bored with a dull journey and wishes to talk to
kill time, or whether he is a male flirt who seeks
adventure, it is not herself which attracts him, but
the fact that she is a young woman and alone.
    When every girl realizes this fact, a great deal of
the romance and danger goes out of the situa-
    Nothing shows so little knowledge of the world,
or so little common sense, in a woman of any age,
as to treat the polite advances of a stranger under
such circumstances as insults.  It is quite as taste-
less as to meet them too familiarly.  A woman
should neither feel flattered nor affronted by such
    In America they mean very little, as a rule, beyond
the desire to relieve a tedious journey.  When they
have a flirtatious intent, a woman of any experience
instantly knows it, and can easily ignore them.
    If a woman enters into conversation with a
stranger, she needs to have both taste and experi-
ence to keep the average man of any class or kind
from trespassing beyond civility.
    The love of adventure, born in every man, and
bred in most, impels them to adroitly attempt a
continuation of an acquaintance made in this man-
ner, if there is the slightest lapse from dignity or
reserve on the part of the lady.  Besides this fact,
very many good men of education and refinement
lack taste in small matters.  Such a man, meaning
to be polite and kind to the lady he has conversed
with for an hour, will ask her to lunch with him in
the dining-car or station, unconscious that he has
trespassed beyond courtesy.  However independent
of the criticisms of the conventional minded, and
however sure the lady may be that her companion
is a gentleman, she makes an inexcusable error if
she does not decline his offer in a manner that for-
bids its repetition.
    A man of adventurous spirit may begin a conver-
sation with a pretty woman, hoping to find in her
that intangible encouragement to flirtation he knows
so well; but if she is the well-bred lady in look,
voice and manner through five minutes, at the end
of the next five he has become the gentleman in
thought as well as action.
    Even the flirty married man, who masquerades
as a bachelor in association with coquettes, will fall
to talking of his wife and children to the sweet-
hearted and dignified lady who permits him to con-
verse with her.
    Meantime the ignorant and innocent young girl
who sets forth on a journey alone, is on the safe
side if she keeps to the parental warning, and "does
not talk with strangers," especially with strange
Every-day thoughts in prose and verse. by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company, 1901.
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