Fair Ladies And Fine Houses

The modishness and the wit of the ladies of Philadelphia were both celebrated and criticited. Young John Quincy Adams, shortly alter his return from Russia, thought that attractive women were almost commonplace in the Quaker city. Thomas Jefferson admired Mrs. Bingham’s keen mind and good sense as much as he appreciated her beauty. John Adams, on the other hand, wrote growlingly from Philadelphia that “the femmes savantes are contemptible characters”; and his wife complained that the décolleté ladies, “not content with the show which nature bestows, … borrow from art, and litterally look like Nursing Mothers.”

In 1797 the Duc de Liancourt wrote: “The prolusion and luxury of Philadelphia on great days, at the tables of the wealthy, in their equipages, and the dresses of their wives and daughters, are extreme. I have seen balls on the President’s birthday where the splendor … did not suffer in comparison with Europe; and it must be acknowledged that the beauty of the American ladies has the advantage in the comparison. The young women of Philadelphia are accomplished in different degrees, but beauty is general with them. They want the ease and fashion of French women, but the brilliancy of their complexion is infinitely superior.”