Skip to content
Fashionable French couple about to kiss, could she be his mistress?

After Hours


When it comes to being the “other woman”, has anything really changed since the 1920s?

At Digital Party, we will periodically look back as we look forward. This remarkably bold letter from Ruth Skeen to Samuel Roth, the founder of Beau magazine—America’s first men’s magazine—was originally published in March 1927. Obviously, it’s dated. For instance, women back then, whether wives or mistresses, relied largely on men for financial security. But when it comes to power dynamics in sexual relationships, are things really all that different today? 

Monsieur, for the better welfare of your so delightfully charming mere man’s magazine, may I address a few remarks to my compatriots and comrades, those ladies of joy and consolation, who give you readers so much delight? Since efficiency is your American slogan in all things, I shall call my little treatise, “How to be a Successful Mistress.”

There are still those of the world, of such stupidity, who regard our profession as the most enviable, the most indolent—a life of ease and perfumed languor.

On the contrary, it is quite otherwise. As the great statesman has so wittily and truly remarked, “Eternal vigilance is the price of illicit love.” 

“A mistress must know how to listen, because a wife seldom, if ever, does.”

You have, of course, observed, my little soiled doves of our so interesting profession, first of all, that the wife has innumerable advantages which the mistress can hardly hope to possess. Regard them. 

The wife is indissolubly linked with her mate. Her claim is bolstered by the laws of all countries. Her fingers are twined alike in his heart and his purse, and even were you to succeed in separating them completely, there is always the pound of flesh that comes in the form of alimony. Do not forget for a moment that the wife bears his name, and men as you doubtlessly observed are incurably romantic. In his secret heart, as in the bottom of a dust bin, still reposes the image of the virgin who he deflowered on his wedding night. 

The wife, too, is the mother of his children. Bearing both his name and his children, the wife has a power of attorney over your lover which is more terrible and omnipotent than an act of Providence. 

But worse still, the wife might be what one considers a ”good woman”. In that case she will possess a “moral attitude,” a cold, judicious mind capable of contriving and inflicting endless punishment for your poor lover. But there is one consolation. A mistress has that one advantage of the wife that is unconquerable—she may be all that the wife is not. 

Vintage Beau magazine cover from July 1927, the same year Skeen’s treatise on how to be a mistress was published
Vintage Beau magazine cover from July 1927, the same year Skeen’s treatise on how to be a mistress was published

Since wives are forever ailing, a successful mistress must never be ill. It is the duty of the wife to nag, threaten, scold, and call attention to and magnify all the little weaknesses of your lover. Therefore, you, who wish to take on the role of the successful mistress, must sooth, cajole, flatter and sympathize. Above all things, you must not discuss unpaid bills with him. This is fatal, I assure you. 

In expansive moments, your lover can be led, not forced to bestow furs, diamonds, theater tickets scented with his kisses—but such suggestions must be made to seem to come spontaneously from him. 

And then, too, a mistress must know how to listen, because a wife seldom, if ever, does. But I do not advise wit. It is too dangerous. It will render your lover restless; he might suspect you of cleverness—and that, my dears, would be too fatal. If you must be witty, take care that you be so in the dark, and always frame your wit that your lover may repeat it the next day to his club fellows as the product of his own brilliant brain. Give your body to your lover with abandon, your soul with caution.

By all means dramatize life for your lover—but never to the point of tragedy or melodrama. You may at times be pensive in his presence, but never, never, lugubrious. Your lover sees too many tears in his wife to desire them in his mistress, so if you must weep, shed your tears on the day he is at home. 

“Two successful articles are indispensable to the successful mistress—a ruffled apron and a bit of embroidery.”

Learn to follow the curves of your lover’s mind as you do those of his body, and depend not alone on your beauty to hold him. There must also be vivacity, tenderness, subordination, sympathy. Above all, sympathy, which never fails. 

Do not forget each morning to light the candle on the altar, and to place fresh flowers on it before the shrine of your love. 

Two successful articles are indispensable to the successful mistress—a ruffled apron and a bit of embroidery. Man is the most domestic of the animals. If among the perfumed trifles of your dressing tables he finds a sock stretched over a darning egg, and belonging to him, it will give him a virtuous feeling. 

The bit of embroidery, to which I have referred, must be used on certain occasions. It gives one, a settled and domestic air, and should be brought to the foreground on those happy occasions when your lover does not wish to go out.

Your ruffled apron may be used when you are making some of those delightful trifles like an omelet or cup of chocolate, for then your lover will compare you generously with his wife, in his mind’s eye. 

“Of all lovers, the least desirable is the banker. You will find him thinking of the value of your passions in dollars and cents.”

And so, now that I have now given you some splendid advice on how to keep a lover, is it not fitting that I end my little treatise upon what manner of lover is most satisfactory. 

Of all lovers the artist is just that, because he has the imagination to clothe his passion with charm, and warm it with the fire of his heart. He knows how to love, to hate and to revenge himself. It is true, he has not much money to give, but since the most mercenary of women prefer passion to plenty, this lack is of little matter, for he will bestow on her instead, blows and kisses most generously, and the blows mes chèries, of your lover, are as deliciously sweet as his kisses. 

But, my dears, beware the financier. Of all lovers, the least desirable is the banker. You will find him thinking of the value of your passions in dollars and cents. He seldom has anything to give but his wealth, and he expects in return from you absolute obedience and infinite gratitude as interest; the only way you can be a mistress of a banker successfully, is to deceive him. 

Adieu my little ones, and thank you Monsieur Rédacteur. 

Photo of 1920s couple, GraphicaArtis-Contributor.

Famously memorialized as the Amazon Hotel in Sylvia Plath‘s The Bell Jar, the Barbizon also hosted the likes of Grace Kelly and Liza Minnelli, Peggy Noonan, and future First Lady Nancy Reagan. However, by 1980 it was one of only three hotels for women operating in the city. Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times/Redux
New York City

No Boys Allowed: NYC’s Women-Only Hotels

Were they a haven, an escape from male predation, a control of women’s sexuality—or all three?


Eisenhower, Dietrich, and the Bracelet That Slayed Hollywood

Right now, the jewels of philanthropist/designer Anne Eisenhower are touring the globe . . . and for only a few million, you can own a piece of Hollywood history.

To demonstrate Tupperware’s patented seal, Wise would toss bowls filled with liquid around the room. Photo by J. McCollum courtesy of Smithsonian National Museum of American History
History Lessons

Tupperware: A Love Story

How one woman transformed a modest food container into an iconic must-have for home chefs.

Benjamin Franklin with a kiss on his cheek
History Lessons

Choosing Your Woman

“If you Want to be Happy for the Rest of Your Life…” Jimmy Soul had nothing on Benjamin Franklin…


Join us for the party

Join us for the party