Jonas Hanway, Pioneering Umbrella User

face of a prisoner

In eighteenth-century England, men generally did not use umbrellas. They wore overcoats and hats. Hence their clothes and their bodies got wet in the rain. Jonas Hanway helped to break down the barriers against men using umbrellas.

Men who used umbrellas in eighteenth-century England were derided as feminine and French. A mid-nineteenth-century historian observed:

Just about that time {1752}, a gentleman did exercise the moral courage to use an umbrella in the streets of London. He was the noted Jonas Hanway, newly returned from Persia, and in delicate health, by which, of course, his using such a convenience was justified both to himself and the considerate part of the public. “A parapluie,” we are told “defended Mr. Hanway’s face and wig.” For a time no others than the dainty beings then called Macaronies ventured to carry an umbrella. Any one doing so was sure to be hailed by the mob as “a mincing Frenchman.” Once John Macdonald, a footman, who has favoured the public with his memoirs, found as late as 1770, that, on appearing with a fine silk umbrella which he had brought from Spain, he was saluted with the cry of “Frenchman, why don’t you get a coach?” It appears, however, as if there had previously been a kind of transition period, during which an umbrella was kept at a coffee-house, liable to be used by gentlemen on special occasions by night, though still regarded as the recourse of effeminancy. In the Female Tatler of December 12, 1709, there occurs the following announcement: “The young gentleman belonging to the Custom House, who, in the fear of rain borrowed the umbrella at Will’s coffee-house, in Cornhill, of the mistress, is hereby advertised that to be dry from head to foot on the like occasion, he shall be welcome to the maid’s pattens.” ^

Despite prejudice and derision, Hanway persisted in his umbrella use. ^ Men today suffer less in the rain because of Jonas Hanway’s courageous action to challenge oppressive gender norms.

By the end of his life, Jonas Hanway had become a famous and highly regarded philanthropist. Now Hanway’s philanthropic work is largely unstudied, and history ignores him. In retrospect, Hanway umbrella use can be fairly regarded as much more valuable than his other attempts to advance social welfare.

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