help needed on 19th Century gender nomenclature

Tue Feb 12 17:57:35 UTC 2008

        1.      The answer really depends on context, but women often
did go by their initials.  For example, if you do a Google Books
full-text search, you'll find many examples of "H.B. Stowe."  These
typically, though not invariably, are in the form "Mrs. H.B. Stowe."
Authors and women in business sometimes used just their initials to
conceal or de-emphasize their feminine gender, a practice that to some
extent continues even today with J.K. Rowling.  For a faux-Victorian
example, see
iew=archive&chapter=16755&mpe=1&step=1 ("My name on the penny-dreadful
cover is "S.K. Garrity" because I'm concealing my identity as A Lady.").

        2.      While it's hard to know for sure what the Congress had
in mind, consider what alternatives they had to show inclusiveness:
"Not things, but men, women, and children"?  "Not things, but humans"?
Contemporary dictionaries, such as the OED and The Century Dictionary,
do give the more inclusive definitions of "man" before the sex-specific
definition.  Usage would have been different if the speaker were
actually addressing an audience including one or more women; the speaker
might, for example, say "Gentlemen and Mrs. Stowe."

John Baker

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From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
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Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 11:53 AM
Subject: help needed on 19th Century gender nomenclature

My daughter, who is at the University of Chicago, needs help on the

In the writing of my B.A. thesis, I've come across two puzzles of
19th-century nomenclature that neither I nor my preceptor know the
answers to. Since the answer to these questions greatly changes the
nature of my conclusion, I would really like to know  the answer. I
think these questions are out of your field of expertise, but perhaps
someone you correspond with would know?

All of these questions are referring to documents from the
1893 World Columbian Exposition and the World's Congress Auxiliary.

1. In the late 19th century, did women ever go by their initials? Would
"Harriet Beecher Stowe" ever have been abbreviated as "H.B. Stowe", or
Elizabeth Cady Stanton as "E.C. Stanton"? If women's names were
abbreviated with initials, would a "Mrs." always be included before said

It seems like that doesn't happen, and if there's a gender-neutral
prefix like "Rev" in front of initials, then it's still always a man,
while women are referenced with a female prefix. But I'd like to know
for certain.

2. While reading through the speeches given at the World's Congresses,
it became fairly clear very early on that when speakers referred to
"men", they were referring to men alone; when speakers meant "men and
women", they would say "men and women"; when speakers wanted to refer to
everyone, they said "men, women, and children".

This pattern has been consistent throughout all of the speeches I've
read; off the top of my head, I don't know of a 19th-century grammar
book that would tell me whether this is a hard and fast rule, but it
seems to be so. "Man" does not seem to be an inclusive or collective
noun, the way it is often assumed to be today.

With that being said, how should I interpret the fact that the World
Congress Auxiliary's motto was "not things, but men; not matter, but

Yes, women were present; yes, they spoke to presumably mixed audiences
(in the transcripts of the different congresses I've read, only two men
have ever been mentioned in the women-led speeches; both times, they
have been either previous speakers or chairmen of the audience). But at
the same time, women were restricted to speaking on topics only in how
they affected women; no general statements on the topic alone, but the
woman's perspective for other women.

A friend of mine suggested the "man" in the motto was used in the
Declaration of Independence type of way; I interpret the Declaration, at
the time of its writing, to have been intended only for men.

I realize these questions sound like semantics, but they do deeply
change the interpretation I have of the Congresses.
iIf all initials without prefixes refer to men, then there are
absolutely NO mixed boards. And if all otherwise-unqualified "men" refer
to males alone -- this changes the purpose of the Congresses. It makes
women's inclusion, rather than a preordained conclusion, something of an
afterthought or a limited concession.

           James A. Landau
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           Northrop-Grumman Information Technology
           8025 Black Horse Pike, Suite 300
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