Victorians’ Secrets: Fans

In the 19th century fans were not only a beautiful accessory or a means to cool off. Women often expressed their amorous feelings and arranged clandestine meetings through a series of signals. Can you interpret the following five responses to suitors?

A. Finger to the tip of a fan
B. Right hand, right cheek
C. Left hand, left cheek
D. Open fan wide near face
E. Open fan near heart

A. I wish to speak with you.
Jeune élégante a l’éventail by Fernand Toussaint  (1873-1956)

B.  Yes
Woman with a Fan by Hamilton Hamilton (19th century)

C.  No
At the Ball by Berthe Morisot (1875)

D.  Wait for me or follow me.
The Loge by Mary Cassatt (1880)

E. You have won my love.
At the Theater by Mary Cassatt (1879)

Which signal(s) proved the hardest to decipher?


Donna MacMeans’ post “The Secret Language of Fans”

The Mysteries of Love, Courtship, and Marriage (1890) by Henry J. Wehman


Victorians’ Secrets: The Love Letter

Victorians’ Secrets: Tussie-Mussies and Sweetheart Flower Clocks

FUTURE POST: Victorians’ Secrets: Handkerchiefs, Napkins, and Silverware
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  1. I think Seattle must have been stealing Denver’s signals in the Super Bowl. Which makes me believe some unintended Victorian suitors might have gotten the wrong idea? But I am still a VIctoria’s Secret fan. Clever.

  2. Fans are still popular today. I bought five when I was in Puerto Vallarta a few years back because they were the perfect solution for my hot flashes. I treated them just like reading glasses . . . had them stashed everywhere. Women experiencing the same menopausal distress marveled at what a great idea it was. I’m sure the demand went up after word got out. I should have bought stock. 🙂 Great post, as always, Jillian. You are such a clever lady!

    • Deb, what a terrific idea! Thanks for the kind comment, but any cleverness on my part is purely coincidental and disappears completely when I’m tired. I once stood at my front door wondering why it wouldn’t open when I pushed the button on my garage door opener.~Jillian

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