YESTERDAY: How the Girls Kiss
Rural newspaper editors reflected on the smooching habits of Nevada’s younger set in 1883.
BY HOWARD HICKSON
This story originally ran in the September/October 2002 issue of Nevada Magazine.
In the late 19th century, young couples in Nevada faced Victorian ground rules when it came to kissing. Some bussing customs relied more on superstition than romance. For example, a girl might be kissed if she heard a bird sing after dark, if she put on a man’s hat, or if coffee grounds formed a ring in the bottom of her cup.
Also, a young woman anticipating a smooch had to be resourceful. For lipstick she might use lard mixed with strawberry juice as lipstick. For a breath sweetener she might mix balls of powdered sugar with oil of cloves or peppermint. The young man, it seems, was relieved of similar duties prior to kissing—which was, in those days, usually the most daring thing a boy and girl did together.
On Sept. 7, 1883, the editor of the Elko Free Press may have contemplated such romantic notions when he presented observations, previously printed in Austin’s Reese River Reveille, about the kissing habits of young ladies in central and eastern Nevada:
“Eureka girls are not satisfied unless they are kissed on the mouth and prefer to be embraced at the same time.
A Belmont girl starts in to kiss when she is 13 or 14 and, by the time she is 20, she has a perfect knowledge of how it ought to be done. Sometimes she offers her cheek in a very bewitching way but, as a general thing, her pouting lips are taken advantage of. She also expects a gentle pressure of the hand.
There is nothing backward about the girls of Battle Mountain. They enjoy kissing and are proud of the stylish way they go about the work. They expect a clinging kiss—a kiss that lasts about three seconds. They do not object to having the pleasant job repeated at intervals during the visit of the fortunate young man.
Girls of Winnemucca are considered cold and more fond of dancing than osculating. They kiss like a sister does her brother—a mere mechanical movement of the head and lips.
Elko girls seldom allow someone to take liberties with their cheeks but, when they are tempted, they give a kiss in return for the one impressed on their blooming cheeks. The victim is left in a state of bliss.
Austin maidens know but little about kissing but are always anxious to learn. What they lack in grace they make up in fond earnestness. To recline in the arms of a lover is considered vulgar and foolish.
Tuscarora girls want to be kissed on the mouth every time. The dignified, cold and aristocratic kiss on the forehead does not go with them.
When a Lewis girl is embraced she wants to do all the kissing herself, and the noise she makes resembles the report of a flapjack striking against the dining room door.”
Times have changed the past 100-plus years. I’ll let it go at that.