The Amazing Mrs. Ruth Smythers

Some of my readers have read “Feminine Appeal“, by Carolyn Mahaney. An article written in 1894 by Mrs. Ruth Smythers, a clergyman’s wife (more precisely, the “beloved wife of The Reverend L.D. Smythers, Pastor of the Arcadian Methodist Church of the Eastern Regional Conference”), is quoted disapprovingly in Chapter 5 (p.72ff) of this book.

Her article, “Instruction and Advice for the Young Bride, On the Conduct and Procedure of the Intimate and Personal Relationships of the Marriage State for the Greater Spiritual Sanctity of this Blessed Sacrament and the Glory of God,” [content warning: Rated PG-13 for extreme Victorian prudery] has also been quoted in Time Magazine. In an academic book, “Perspectives on Human Sexuality,” it is quoted as an example of Victorian attitudes. It is of course all over the Internet.

There is only one problem with this article: Mrs. Smythers didn’t exist.

The Methodist Church didn’t have an Eastern Regional Conference in 1894, and there was no Arcadian Methodist Church in it, and there was no Rev. L.D. Smythers to be in such a church if it existed. The “Madison Institute“, which allegedly published this in its newsletter, doesn’t seem to have published anything else.

Additionally, there are a number of textual clues that indicted that it was not written in 1894. One clue is that she speaks of turning out the lights in 1894: back then lights were usually put out (think about candles and gas lamps, instead of electric lights.) Also, a Methodist minister’s wife would not call marriage a “sacrament.” Protestants have only two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

I am happy that Ms. Ruth Smythers did not exist. But not half as happy as Mr. Smythers must be.

And even though Carolyn Mahaney and her editors fell for the hoax, her book is still better than any advice given by Mrs. Ruth Smythers.

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4 thoughts on “The Amazing Mrs. Ruth Smythers

  1. Well, having read the whole thing you linked to, it’s pretty easy to see that it’s a hoax, at least in hindsight. Mrs. Mahaney excerpted only a paragraph or so in her book, and that was one of the mildest parts.

    As you go through, it rings less and less true, mostly because the mixture of near-prurient detail and absurd prudery simply don’t go together. Anyone with the point of view that the piece purports to promote would not be able to bring herself to speak in the detail in which the pseudo-author writes of particular matters.

    It’s too bad Mrs. Mahaney fell for this, as the book is otherwise excellent.

  2. Yes, Mrs. Mahaney’s book is very good. I think that Rev. L.D. Smythers should get a copy for Mrs. Smythers for Christmas. He would be a lot happier if she read Chapter 5. 🙂

  3. Ok, thanks. I’ve seen this quoted, and I felt like it just had to be a fake. (Seems to me to have been written by someone from the generation–right before mine–that invented sex)
    Thanks so much for the info, it’s tragic what people will believe.

  4. I cannot in any way attest to the authenticity of this article. All I can contribute is my experience reading it 25 years ago. I have been looking for a copy of that book for about the last 20 years. It was quite an old book, i think it had a canvas hard cover. Other books on the shelf i remember one copyright was 1912, another 1899. What I read was a type of book on ladies etiquette containing various other topics.

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