University of Delaware Library - Special Collections Department
Defining Her Life: Advice Books for Women
John Gregory, 1724-1773.
Gregory imbued his message with authority by writing as if he were an aging man imparting wisdom to his young daughters. He also suggested that the information was not his own, but that of the daughters' deceased mother. Since the mother died young, the children were unable to benefit from her prudent advice. Among the subjects included are religion, behavior, leisure, friendship, love, and marriage. While Gregory's advice is traditional, his attitudes are more enlightened than earlier writers, as he sees women "not as domestic drudges, or the slaves of our pleasures, but as our companions and equals."
François de Salignac de La Mothe Fénelon,
Fénelon's Treatise, originally published in 1687, was widely read well into the nineteenth century. Fénelon advocated a wider-ranging education for women than was common in the seventeenth century. He believed that a woman should learn to write and keep accounts, acquire a basic understanding of the law, read history, and study Latin. The goal, however, was not to free woman from the home, but to help them manage the family estates. Fénelon believed that a woman's mind was fundamentally different from a man's and that, while women might seek knowledge, they might not be able to handle it.
Donald Fraser, 1755?-1820.
The Mental Flower Garden: or, An Instructive and Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex. New York: Printed by Southwick & Hardcastle, 1807.
Donald Fraser, author of popular instructional books used in girls' schools, emphasized moral training over academic training for young women in school. His "moral dialogues calculated for misses from eight to twelve years," are dense in both style and content. In The Mental Flower, Fraser advises young women that "[f]rom rising morning till setting night, to see [your husband] pleased your chief delight." Other lessons consist of long poems that addressed female beauty, dress, and character.
Mrs. (Hester) Chapone, 1727-1801.
Chapone was a very popular conduct writer who covers many traditional topics, including study of the scriptures, government of the temper, and regulation of the heart and affections. She endorses education for women, and includes suggestions for reading, but advises strongly against reading fictional stories which "enflame the passions of youth, whilst the chief purpose of education should be to moderate and restrain them."
Legh Richmond, 1772-1827.
The Reverend Legh Richmond was an evangelical preacher who became famous as a writer of popular stories of village life. His most popular tale, "The Dairyman's Daughter," a story of pathos and piety, sold over two million copies during the author's lifetime. Richmond's advice to his daughter in Domestic Portraiture follows the traditional religious-based model of woman as meek and mild helpmate to her husband.
History of Goody Two Shoes. Baltimore: Bayly and Burns, 1837.
Thought to be the first piece of original English fiction written to amuse children, the book was originally published by John Newbery in 1765. The heroine rises from poverty to a good marriage through hard work, thrift, and the use of her talents. While sold as an amusement, the story is actually a guide to success through proper behavior and attitude.
Margaret Coxe, b. 1800.
The Young Lady's Companion: in a Series of Letters. Columbus: Published by I. N. Whiting, 1839.
Coxe advocates for better education for women, but recommends only traditional roles. The book includes an extensive and challenging reading list for young women as well as an interesting defense of the single woman.
Catharine Maria Sedgwick, 1789-1867.
Means and Ends, or, Self-Training. Boston: Marsh, Capen, Lyon, & Webb, 1839.
Means and Ends was a popular guide for women that included essays on education, good books to read, conversation, gossiping, health and exercise. Sedgwick seeks an active role for women but believes that they shouldn't encroach on men's sphere.
Stories for Little Girls. An Amusing Book for the Moral Improvement of Children. Guben [Germany]: Printed by F. Fechner, circa 1840.
In these brief stories, little girls suffer extreme punishments for incorrect behavior. A child described as "passionate" was sent away and never saw her mother again; a girl described as "capricious" grew very ugly. Rather than finding the stories amusing, young women would likely have been terrified by the wages of misbehavior.
Gift of the University of Delaware Library Associates.
George Winfred Hervey.
This is a very typical courtesy book with a strongly religious orientation. What makes it unusual is the inscription from a father to his daughter that can serve as an excellent example of the uses and goals of advice books:
Gift of Henry Clay Reed.
James Foster, D. D.
The Married State; or Obligations and Duties. NY: Milo Doty, 1857.
A traditional, strongly religious, prescription for marriage. Among the duties of wives are submission, caution against levity and pride, fidelity, frugality, and meekness.
Hannah Lindley Murray, 1777-1836.
Although The Toilet has the appearance of a book on cosmetics, this is actually a conduct book. Each image contains a flap which, when opened, reveals a moral precept. For example, the image of "Genuine Rouge" contains the word "modesty."
C. H. (Charles H.) Kent.
A Manual for Young Ladies: With Hints on Love, Courtship, Marriage, and the True Objects of Life. Davenport, IA: The Author, 1881.
The text combines traditional views of women's roles with some pragmatic advice about love, marriage, choice of mate, and the bad habits of men. The author's goal is preparing women for their "high mission" as wives and mothers.
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