University of Delaware Library - Special Collections Department
Defining Her Life: Advice Books for Women

Household Management


Louisa C. Tuthill, 1798-1879.
The Young Lady's Home. New Haven: S. Babcock, 1839.

Louisa Tuthill took a strongly anti-feminist stance, opposing a role for women beyond the home. She views "a desire to mingle in public affairs, a wrangling in controversy, and a hankering for public applause [as] unbecoming the dignity and delicacy of woman."

Specimens of Needle-work Executed in the School of Great Cressingham. Swaffham: John S. Gowing, Printer, 1845.

Specimens of Needle-work, a recent addition to Special Collections, is a rare example of actual designs executed by a student. Included are embroidery and cross-stitching as well as inset sleeves and gathering.

Sarah Josepha Hale, 1788-1879.
Mrs. Hale's Receipts for the Million. Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson, 1857.

Sarah Hale was a widow with five young children who turned to teaching and writing to support her family. After her first novel Northwood became popular, she was hired as editor for the Ladies Magazine. She went on to the editorship of Godey's Ladies Magazine, the most successful woman's periodical of its day. Hale was active in supporting education for women, particularly medical education, job opportunities for women, and child welfare. Receipts for the Million, a virtual encyclopedia of domestic arts, contains over four thousand recipes, household hints, and famous quotations. In her preface, Hale states: It is not enough that woman understands the art of cookery and of managing her house: she must also take care of herself; of children; of all who will be dependent on her for direction, for health, for happiness.


J. H. Walsh.
A Manual of Domestic Economy: Suited to Families Spending from £100 to £1000 a Year. London: G. Routledge & Co., 1857.

This encyclopedic work includes everything a middle-class housewife would need to know. The reader can find prices for plumber's work, design of toilets, nutritional components of common foods, prenatal and infant care, and recipes. Filled with clear illustrations and well indexed, the book gives modern readers a detailed picture of Victorian domestic life.

Gift of Helen Bain Brown

Sir John Gardner Wilkinson, 1797-1875.
On Colour, and on the Necessity for a General Diffusion of Taste Among All Classes. London: J. Murray, 1858.

During the late nineteenth century, as many more families entered the middle class, women often felt a lack of the social skills and refinements that they observed among those considered socially above them. This led to an increase in the popularity of all types of advice literature, but particularly to those that advertised as teaching "good taste" in home decorating.

Mrs. (Isabella Mary) Beeton, 1836-1865.
The Book of Household Management. London: Ward, Lock, and Tyler, 1869.

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management was the most widely read of all household advice books in the nineteenth century. It is the best example of advice literature aimed at the new middle-class housewife and her household staff. In the preface, Isabella Beeton tells the reader that she was motivated to write the book by her desire to educate the housewife to achieve the perfect home:

What moved me, in the first instance, to attempt a work like this, was the discomfort and suffering which I had seen brought upon men and women by household mismanagement. I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife's badly cooked dinners and untidy ways. Men are now so well served out of doors - at their clubs, well-ordered taverns, and dining-houses - that, in order to compete with the attraction of these places, a mistress must be thoroughly acquainted with the theory and practice of cookery, as well as be perfectly conversant with all the other arts of making and keeping a comfortable home.

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