Skip to main content

Not just men and walruses

In doing some research for the Coming into Focus project I came across this sentence in a newspaper article:

Miss Sue Dorris and Dr Alice [sic] M. Smith offer the finest proof of the feasibility of two bachelor women [emphasis added — CuC] successfully maintaining a home for themselves together and without friction in the matter of building the morning fires.
Eugene, Oregon Morning Register, March 2, 1915, p. 4

Sue Dorris was a photographer and Dr. Allie M Smith was an osteopath and Dorris' life partner. But it was the phrase "bachelor women" that caught my attention, since "bachelor" is (was?) a common example of sex as a part of lexical meaning (like "spinster", but that's another discussion). Now although "bachelor" typically refers to never married adult men, it can also refer to a male walrus (I don't know if they have to be adults, and marriage seems irrelevant to them).

I had never seen "bachelor" refer to women, but there it was, and this instance wasn't even novel. A little searching on the Library of Congress' Chronicling America site of historical newspapers found this article from the Oswego, Michigan Times of October 12, 1894, reproduced below. Especially interesting is that a widow was referred to as a bachelor woman (whereas as a widower would not be referred to as a bachelor — at least I don't think so, but ...).

Oh, my web searching did turn up another meaning for "Bachelor Women", namely the women who have appeared on the show "The Bachelor". Even though they are "bachelors" in the old newspaper sense, now they might be called "bachelorettes", as in the other show "The Bachelorette). [Before you start worrying, no, I have not watched either of those shows.]

You just never know what you'll find when you're doing research!