Pick up any magazine or newspaper today and you’re likely to find some sort of agony aunt or advice column.

Such novelties, however, have been around for longer than you probably think – all the way back to the late 1700s.

A century ago, in 1924, the women of Southend were being given some pretty direct and frivolous advice about how to dress elegantly, stay thin and above all, to please their husbands.

The Southend Pictorial Telegraph was packed with advice for women on ways to improve themselves both mentally and physically and to keep their other halves happy (no such column existed for men of course).

When it came to matrimonial matters the year 1924 was an important one - and a turning point for women’s equality activists of the time - because it was when the repercussions of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1923 were beginning to come to light.

Before this act divorce was still rare and often considered a scandal. Because of this just one in every 450 marriages ended in divorce.

Prior to the 1923 Act women in England and Wales found it much harder than men to get a divorce.

A husband wanting to split from his wife could obtain a divorce on the basis of his wife’s adultery alone, whereas a wife could not.

She also had to prove that in addition to the cheating he’d committed incest, rape, sodomy or cruelty or deserted her for at least two years.

Buy by 1924 women were finally allowed to file for divorce due to their husband’s adultery alone and they didn’t hold back. In fact more women that year petitioned the courts for their marriage to be dissolved than men did.

However, judging by the endless reams of advice and tips printed weekly in the Southend Telegraph, women still held the weight of the marriage’s success on their shoulders.

Echo: Changes coming - a group of women pictured in the 1920s. Changes to the law in 1923 meant women didn’t have to be stuck in an unwanted marriage.Changes coming - a group of women pictured in the 1920s. Changes to the law in 1923 meant women didn’t have to be stuck in an unwanted marriage. (Image: Archive)

If you expected female advice columnists to be in the corner of the woman, you’d be wrong.

Articles for women printed in the Southend Telegraph show how female agony aunts were extremely critical of their own sex.

One such column, printed in April 1924, for example, lays into women who were filled with too much self-pity.

Columnist Eleanor Burnes writes: “Hundreds of women have destroyed their chance of happiness and their possibilities of usefulness by falling victim to self-pity.

“Consider any woman you know who nurses a grievance. Usually she is rather commonplace, peevish, and disgruntled - a decided bore without any aim or interest, with no claim to distinction or enthusiasm.

“Possibly if you enquire into the story of her life you may find that she was a spoiled child with a selfish, discontented nature or that in her girlhood she formed a romantic attachment for a man who either did not reciprocate or jilted her for someone fairer or cleverer than her.

“The self-pitying woman refuses to believe that anyone was ever so hardly dealt with as she.

“She loses all sense of proportion, magnifies trifles, constitutes herself as the centre of everything, judges everything from her own jaundiced standpoint and gradually deteriorates until she becomes the unhappy, colourless character you know.”

Ouch! Another column, this time by “Lillian”, laments the way 20th century ‘Karens’’ used public transport.

She writes: “A man said to me the other day ‘I dread the arrival of the holiday season because my daily journey to town is made an affliction by the increase number of women who are travelling.

He comes home tired and needs cheering

“She imagines that the whole train is provided for her convenience, that the porters and the guard are there for her special benefit and the distinctions between the first and third class compartments and between smoking and non-smoking mean nothing to her’.

“If my friend is to be believed the casual feminine traveller becomes a nuisance immediately that she arrives at the booking office.

“Here she ignores the queues and walks round to the head of it.

“When ultimately she reaches the window in her proper turn the money is still in her bag and her gloves are still on her hands so when the ticket is passed to her, she must delay proceedings by removing her gloves, extracting the money and counting the change with the utmost care, before leaving the window while others stand impatiently behind her.

“Then she thinks of 50 questions to ask the ticket inspector and the porters, obstructing the doorway while she asks them.

“Them, a second before the train starts, she will remember that she will like a magazine or a newspaper though she stood for several minutes beside the bookstall before the train came in.”

As for pleasing husbands, there was no shortage of advice.

One column, again from April of 1924 cautions Southend women not to dismiss their husband’s fashion critiques. In other words, if your hubby doesn’t like your hat, chuck it away.

“John simply hates me in my new hat, but of course the old dear knows nothing about hats….’ “Doesn’t he? Probably John having seen the hat from every possible point of view on that particular head knows much more about it than the wearer.

“So most certainly if John is to step out with its wearer my advice would be scrap the offending hat out of hand.

“Do ask yourself whether you are one of those women who consider their clothes carefully and chooses them as carefully for indoors as those worn out of doors? If you are – but only if you are – you may consider yourself a good dresser.”

Another important message to the women of Southend was: ‘Don’t whine!’. One columnist –again female – had some handy tips for women who didn’t like their husbands going out after work without them.

“In the evening, he goes to his club or to visit friends but let her make sure that she has made her husband truly welcome when he returns at night from his work.

“If the wife receives him with grumbles, with complaints and with all her housekeeping problems she need not wonder if he had been inclined to seek more congenial company elsewhere.

“He comes home tired and needs cheering, he does not need all at once a fresh set of burdens which to him will probably seem trivial.”

Echo: Nice hat, but would her husband like it? Mrs Roger Bacon, whose father ran the Rivoli theatre, pictured in Southend in 1924Nice hat, but would her husband like it? Mrs Roger Bacon, whose father ran the Rivoli theatre, pictured in Southend in 1924 (Image: Archive)

And when it came to humdrum husbands the advice was to try to amuse him into action.

“There may be many husbands who are contented to sit at home with a pipe and a newspaper after a day’s work, but they seem usually to be united to women who are fond of pleasure,” revealed another columnist.

“A young married woman once said to me, speaking of her husband: ‘Harry is a very good sort but life with him is almost unbearable.

“‘He never dreams of taking me out. He comes home from the city and after dinner sits with a newspaper till he dozes off in his chair.

“’Then at about 10 O’clock he wakes with a start and looks at his watch and says ‘it’s time to go to bed’.

“If a woman can be bored with this kind of husband, it is easy to imagine how a man who is naturally the less domesticated animal, can be insufferably wearied with the fireside type of life.

“Husbands need amusement and distractions after the labours of the days. This is especially true of the professional man who uses his brain continually.”

Meanwhile columnist Mrs Courtney James had plenty to say about Southend wives who were too domesticated.

To bore is unforgivable

On the one hand wives of the 1920s were expected to be amiable and demure but on the other they couldn’t be too boring, as her column explained: “Much has been heard about the frivolous pleasure-loving wife who gads about from dinner to dance wasting her husband’s money and giving him little or none of her time.

“There is, however, a reverse to the picture. In their secret minds most husbands would prefer a wife of the ‘gad about’ type to the humdrum spouse who has no interests outside her front door.

“That front door may be spick and span, its brasses glittering with polish but when it binds a woman’s mental horizon that woman is apt to become a bore. And to bore is one of the unforgivable sins of social life.

“Wives who can occupy themselves with their home to the exclusion of everything else seem to sink into a mental lethargy. They may have intelligence but find it too much trouble to use it.”

When it came to keeping themselves young and beautiful the Southend Telegraph agony aunts advised women to walk as much as they could.

Obviously, being the fragile creatures they are, however, meant women shouldn’t overdo it.

“The distance of your walk will have to vary according to how far you can go without fatigue and strain,” wrote Pauline Bouchier, in the Southend Telegraph in the summer of 1924.

On the subject of swimming – which was hailed as the perfect exercise for women – the message was, again, don’t strain yourself too much – and certainly don’t make an unladylike scene if you think you are drowning!

“Whatever you do, don’t be foolhardy and get beyond your depth and on no account shriek and cry out as if you feel in danger. You may do so once too often and be disregarded when you really are in peril,” was the stark advice.