European Practices of Yesteryear

By John Francis Trelawny



Originally, these were wooden boards strapped flat against the back of their waists and extending up their back where a
steel ring covered with leather projected to the front and encircled the throat.

These were popular around the close of the eighteenth century and many girls were held rigidly upright in them.
Generally they were removed at night, they normally were worn above their clothing, and the leather-covered rings were
left on their necks to fasten the backboard to the next day.

It was a very step from this point to using the neckring as a convenience in tethering the girl to her bench for her
needlework or to her desk for schoolwork. The next step was the use the neckring as a leashing point while taking the girl
here or there. Within a predictably short time it was found convenient to heave a short chain attached to the neckring for
tethering her to a spot or for leading her.

The backboard became popular in a number of schools in England and on the continent and with it came the collar. In
Scotland, the collar was referred to as the jougs, and the backboard itself went underground, so to speak. Instead of a
wooden board strapped to the waist after the young lady was dressed, the Scots began using a stiff flat bar of metal that
went on the spine under the stays and extended up the back to above the collar—far enough above that the young lady
couldn’t slip it off. Thus, she was held permanently erect, night as well as day. More to the point, the jougs became a
permanent metal neckband, wide enough to avoid hurting the neck when the young lady forgot it was there and tried to
look down at her own shoes.

The collars were made of silver and gold and—for the less wealthy families—bronze, pinchbeck, and even copper which
had to be worn over a neckpiece so it would not darken the skin. Many were elegantly filigreed and engraved as
decorations although they were clearly restraints. Some were linked collars, wide chain mesh that were locked at the back
with small padlocks but others were one-piece metal bands that were riveted in the back.

The schools on the continent, were quick to pick up the restraint and they established patterns of collars (with) which their
students were fitted—unless they came with substantial collars already on their necks. Many of these were brass and
Sheffield plate—silver over copper—and part of the girls’ duties included keeping their collars brightly polished.

Later, some German schools fitted the girls with collars that looked like silver but tarnished much less and cost much less,
this was called "German silver."

All the schools took full advantage of the convenience of the collars and neckchains, restraining the girls for virtually 24
hours a day. The girls were tethered during classes, during meals, during "free time" and even during trips through the
town to museums, libraries, cathedrals, or plays. It was not uncommon for caffles of girls to be paraded through the town,
inked neck to neck and often masked and bound, escorted only by a schoolmistress at the head, who could be quite
confident that none of the girls could wander off.

Lady Ardmore told of being in a girls’ school near Munich, where her waist was laced down to fourteen inches—the size
stipulated by her stepmother. She was fitted on her arrival with a heavy German silver collar, as well as a heavy
neckchain which slid along a wire with the other girls. The girls had to reserve their order on the wire and could move
along the wire only in that order.

She continued to wear the collar and chain after leaving the school—first because her stepmother insisted and later,
because her husband took such great pleasure in tethering her and even set up a similar slide-wire system at the manor
house confining her to her own wing. He also continued to keep her arms bound a large part of the time.


Quite aside from binding the girls’ arms to prevent them from loosening their stays, many figure-training authorities
advocated binding the arms rigorously as an aid to good posture.

Even with shoulderstraps and backboards, many felt that additional steps were desirable and they bound the girls’ arms
together behind their backs so that their elbows were pressed tightly against each other. This pulled their shoulders back
most firmly and expanded their chests. Their posture was clearly improved by this practice but the girls found it
distressing—particularly after several hours.

A letter from La Monceau school of Cassis (near Toulon) to Mrs. Claudia Gibbs of Devonshire advocates such binding for
her daughter Sybil who evidently had a severe posture problem.

"….and she somehow manages still to appear awkward in spite of the shoulderstraps and the
backboard. I have made the experiment of binding her arms behind her back so hat her elbows
touch and immediately there is a pronounced improvement. We have encountered this
problem before and find that the longer the bad posture is allowed to continue the more trouble
is there (re)medial measure required. Dear Mme. Gibbs, believe me, it is not pleasant to be
bound for long periods but I fear that unless we bind Sybil’s arms in this manner now, she will
retain this most unfortunate awkwardness. I urge your consent to our binding Sybil’s arms in
this manner for at least six hours each day. For understand, Mme, Gibbs, it is the last hours
that do the good. The third hour does more good than the first and second taken together. The
fourth hour does more for the habits than all three earlier ones. The fifth hour provides a more
persuasive remedy than all four previous ones, and the sixth hour is the most curative of all
those which have gone before. I believe and I (re)commend that we should bind Miss Sybil’s
arms in this manner for at leas six hours each day during the subsequent few months. Her
schedule of study can be rearranged to avoid interference with her education and even should
some mild interruption of her study result from this practice, it is my considered opinion that
such a delay would be to her ultimate advantage, since the study could very well be made up in
the future after she is cured of her distressing posture fault.

Of course, the procedure is not to our student’s preference; like all young women, her
immediate physical comfort looms more largely in her mind than the formation of posture
habits which will remain with her throughout her life. Consequently, I solicit your approval of this
step for the period of six months, at the end of which time we can re-assess the situation and
determine the course to be followed.

I look for your early reply to this letter…"

We have no record of Mrs. Gibb’s reply to the letter but there are numerous records of girls being bound in this manner
for lengthy periods.

Lady Ardmore’s daughter-in-law, who was restrained closely with her over a two-year period, had been bound rigorously
in this manner during her school days and her husband, the Honourable Charles Trelawny, greatly enjoyed having her
arms confined behind her back in a single glove.


This glove was a long one, covering both hands after they were placed palm-to-palm, and lacing snugly up both forearms
to the elbows—which were held tightly pressed together. To keep the glove from slipping down, a loop was passed
completely around both shoulders and the glove itself came up several inches above the elbows—still laced snugly.

The young lady had a number of these single gloves in different colors and types of leather and it was quite common for
her to be restrained in one or another every day, whether her husband was to be home or not. Her had left orders to that
effect with her maid.

When the bride came to stay with Lady Ardmore, she brought her own maid along, who had been ordered to fasten her
lady’s arms each day in on of the single gloves. The maid interpreted her order, rightly or wrongly, as applying to all day
rather than to a few hours as the bride insisted had been her husband’s intent. Over the bride’s protests, the maid
insisted on lacing her mistress’ arms in a single glove each morning and she refused to undo her arms until bedtime.
Thus her arms were rigorously restrained all day long, every day.

On her behalf, Lady Ardmore wrote to her husband, who was with the Honourable Charles in India, and asked him to
enquire as to his son’s intentions regarding his young wife. Lord Ardmore replied, in part:

"I have enq’d Chas., as you requested, & must tell you that he did truly with (sic) Yelinda’s arms
rest’ned for only suff’c’nt dura’ion as to preserve her habit and not lose her tole’nce of such
c’nf’nm’nt. Howsoever, since her maid seems to have est’blished a practise of more prot-cted
restr’ct’n already (judging by the date of your l’tt’r and today’s true date), it w’uld seem that any
remedial order w’uld be f’rth’r delayed by the time for passage of this missive. Acc’rding’ly,
Chas.beseeches h’s beloved wife toward patience against his return. It is his devout wish, she
be acc’st’m’d to such rest’nt and even able to sleep with her arms so constrained. He send her
his heart’s dearest affec’n and beseeches her prayers f’r his safe return."

So the bride was not only made to continue wearing the single glove to bind her arms behind her, but to learn to sleep
bound in such a manner. Lady Ardmore said, her heart ached for the poor girl who tossed and turned during the night,
being in considerable discomfort. However, she did become able to sleep while her arms were thus bound and, to stay in
practice, slept that way every other night.

Lady Ardmore herself wrote:

"I must confess to a great curiosity as to what it must feel like to be bound in a single glove, so
that I requested the maid to bind my own arms in a glove Yelinda was not wearing at the time.

I found it a curious sensation and not at all uncomfortable, at the start. My arms were drawn
back so extremely that my chest had perforce to remain expanded. I can quite easily see that
it must be a healthy measure. I quite soon decided that I would have a similar single glove
made for myself, learn to wear it and even to sleep in it as Yelinda was doing in order to
surprise my husband when he came home from India. However, after I had worn the glove for
an hour, I decided I would have one made for me and learn to wear it during the day but
sleeping in it would be too distressful. At the end of two hours, I was most uncomfortable and
wanted only to have it off so that my shoulders would no longer feel the considerable
discomfort. However, I was not able to take it off myself and of course Yelinda was not able to
remove it for her own arms were laced in another just like it. I was forced to wait for another
two hours for my release because I had given my maid an errand, she was even then in the
village ordering a single glove for me from the local glovemaker. When she left, she had locked
the door to my apartment, as she had been ordered to do and none other of the household
staff was able to enter and release my arms.

By the time she returned with the news that my own single glove would be ready in a fortnight, I
was exceedingly distressed and begged her to release my arms immediately, which of course
she did.

Since having my own glove, I have worn it for periods not exceeding tow hours, except for one
occasion while awaiting the Duchess of Kent who was late. Then I wore the glove for nearly six
hours before it was announced that the Duchess would not arrive, and it was nearly seven
hours before we could get to our own rooms where my husband would release my arms. That
was true agony and I should not enjoy such an experience again.

I must say that I had far greater respect for Yelinda, who wore a single glove for between
thirteen and fifteen hours each day and, moreover, wore it during weight or nine hours of sleep
on alternate night. I did not wonder, at her exclamations of discomfort.


Although many families sent their daughters to girls’ schools for figure-training, especially for the last several years, there
were still many families where the girls were educated and trained at home. In some cases, governesses or tutoresses,
were called in to give instruction in French or mathematics, but girls were not generally required to have the same kind of
education as boys. It was more common for the girls to be trained to sew, to sing—but not too well—to speak French and
sometimes German, and for the rest to conduct herself (sic) as a lady in every way. This last included figure-training and
whatever means of assuring good posture as the girl’s mother, stepmother, governess, aunt, or grandmother thought

Generally the task was taken over by some woman without too absorbing an interest in socializing, and it was not at all
unusual for the aunt or grandmother or elder cousin to spend considerable effort reading the ladies’ journals and writing
voluminously to staymakers, their former schoolmistresses, and friends to seek the best advice for training their charges.
More often than not, the training was on the severe side, often approaching such rigorous conditions that the subject’s life
was sheer hell. The poor girl would be laced savagely, braced, collared, chained, bound in a most uncomfortable
manner,. And kept muted in a mask so she could not complain. There was no choice of the poor girl, however. All she
could do was improve her posture and figure or suffer and undoubtedly she did both.

Of course, there were many cases of true sadism, an aging (sic) gentlewoman who felt that life was passing by after she
had undergone considerable physical distress to achieve happiness, could very easily slip from sincere severity to
deliberate cruelty in dealing with her helpless charges.

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