The death of modesty, does it mean the death of courtesy? Written in 1922




John D. Mell in Baptist Standard, Dallas, Texas1

The Old South has long since been dead, and only a faint memory of it now remains in the minds of men. There are among us just a few old men and old women who lived in it, suffered for it, and still intensely love it. But they are fast passing on, and in a few years will all be gone, and then none will be left to revere it.

Some customs should never die

The world would be infinitely better off, and life would be sweeter and happier, if some of the things that lived in the Old South would never die. It had many high and holy customs in the daily life of its children, but its chief glory the gentle courtesy of its men, and the sweet modesty of its women.

Its men each day were gentlemen in the noblest sense, and its women each day were modest in the holiest sense. Reverence for sacred things, respect for age, polished urbanity of manner, sweetness of temper and deep abiding pure homage for women, were the ineffaceable qualities of the minds and hearts of men of those days.

And the women, in the finest and holiest sense, were worthy of the men. They held in their characters, and deep in their souls, that sweet modesty which is the ineffable glory of the pure woman. The brazen look, the painted face, the indecent dress, were as impossible for the women of the Old South, as they are for the angels in heaven.

Fashion plate from 1850s -Magasin des Demoiselles (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Respect lies dormant in man

And they ought to be impossible among us today. Somebody ought to teach some of our young women about the finer and happier things of life they are missing. Immodesty in the woman will always attract the eyes of the man, as it always has. The women who are immodest, place an impassable gulf between themselves and the respect and affection of a real gentleman.

The finest and noblest quality in a true man lies dormant in his mind and heart, and can only be brought to life and activity by a modest woman. The highest and holiest usefulness and happiness of a true woman can never be obtained in this life or in the life to come unless she succeeds in awakening this thing that lies dormant in the man.

Fashion plate from 1840s -Le Bon Ton (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

When modesty dies – courtesy dies

God has linked courtesy and modesty together, just as he has linked the destiny of the man and the woman together. When modesty dies, courtesy dies also. When there are in this world no more modest women, there will then be in this world no more gentlemen.

Fashion plate from 1840s Le Bon Ton ladies (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

There ought to be preached to the pulpits and taught in the schools and above all, lived in the homes, a revival of old-fashioned courtesy and modesty of the Old South. If our boys are not to be courteous anymore, and our girls are not to be modest anymore, then most of the hope and the happiness of life are gone.

1Transcribed from Abbeville Herald (Abbeville, Alabama) March 9, 1922

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