‘Capt. Burton, who travelled extensively in Mohammedan countries in the disguise of a native, and who in the character of a physician saw something of the interior of the harem, says that the oriental is “the only state of society in which jealousy and quarrels about the sex are the exception and not the rule of life.” […]
The two ladies of W. H. Seward’s party, in his tour around the world, in May, 1871, visited the harem in the palace of the khedive’s mother (the princess valideh) at Cairo. After traversing a succession of saloons superbly furnished with velvet carpets, lace and damask curtains, satin-covered sofas and divans, large French mirrors, and crystal chandeliers, they were presented to the princess, who was surrounded by the ladies of the harem and Circassian slave girls. The princess wife of the khedive wore a green silk dress with lace, hat, gloves, boots, and fan, all from London or Paris, and her light brown hair was dressed in the latest Parisian style.
The ladies of the harem, many of them displaying diamond solitaires of immense size, confessed their partiality for European modes, all of them had ordered outfits from London, with the request that they might be counterparts of the trousseau of the princess Louise. The princess mother said that “since the ladies the harem were allowed to see the European opera and ballet at the theatre in Alexandria, they have become quite disgusted with the native performances of their own country.” She explained the condition of the slave women; they were brought from their native land when quite young, were provided with husbands and dowries, and were “very lucky.”
But the system as a domestic institution is summed up by Mr. Seward as follows: “The Mohammedan provision for woman is a prison in which her sufferings from jealousy are consoled by the indulgence of her vanity. She is allowed the society of her own sex with far less restraint than is ordinarily supposed, and she displays before her visiting friends with pride the wealth and ornaments which lighten her chains.” She goes abroad only in a carriage, and under strict surveillance; “she never reads, and, so far as possible, is required never to think.”’
– Ripley. G., Dana. C.A., Ed. (1879) The American Cyclopædia – A Popular Dictionary Of General Knowledge New York, United States: D. Appleton and Company (Entrance: “Harem” [between “Hare Lip” and “Harfleur”], written by Parke Godwin).