University of Delaware Library - Special Collections Department

Defining Her Life: Advice Books for Women

Working Women


The Reverend James Porter.
The Operative's Friend, and Defence: or, Hints to Young Ladies, who are Dependent on their own Exertions. Boston: Charles H. Peirce, 1850.

This is a rare mid-nineteenth century example of an etiquette book for working women, specifically for the New England factory workers. Porter defends their character against the popular prejudice against young women who work outside the home. He believes that factory work is honorable, even superior to "useless leisure," and decries the disrespect the girls are shown. At the same time, Porter acknowledges the pitfalls of independence:

You need [religion] to protect your character. Many of you are young, --among strangers, with no natural guide or guardian. Perhaps you are orphans, and may have had but little opportunity to inform, and fortify yourselves against temptation. There are enough in every place to seek your acquaintance, and mislead you.


Virginia Penny.
How Women Can Make Money, Married or Single… Springfield, Mass.: D. E. Fisk, 1870.

Virginia Penny was a teacher who devoted her life to enlarging the industrial sphere of women. She wrote systematically about careers available to women as well as jobs that she felt should be available. The five hundred occupational descriptions range from astronomer to shroud maker. Descriptions include the effect on the worker's health, wages, time required to learn the business, prospect for future employment, and the comparative superiority or inferiority of women to men in each field.


Martha Louise Rayne.
What Can a Woman Do? or Her Position in the Business and Literary World. Petersburgh, N.Y.: Eagle Publishing, 1893.

This remarkable book brings together descriptions of careers for women ranging from law to bee keeping, discussion of wages and working conditions, and a collection of poetry written by women about women. Rayne strongly supports women's work and financial independence, not only for those forced to work, but also for the housewife who should have her "own private purse." She speaks out against the lower educational standards for girls, which make women dependent on family and friends. Rayne also confronts the issue of the working woman and her relationship with men.


The Woman's Book, Dealing Practically with the Modern Conditions of Home-life, Self-support, Education, Opportunities, and Every-day Problems. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1894.

This remarkable work is a wide-ranging compendium of information that includes chapters on occupations for women, principles of housekeeping, the art of travel, house building and decoration, and books and reading. The Woman's Book contains detailed discussions of ventilation in homes, building and loan associations, tasteful engraved stationary, and the hundred best books.


Munro Leaf.
Listen Little Girl before You Come to New York. NY: Frederick A. Stokes, 1938.

Children's story writer, Munro Leaf, wrote this book for the single girl who goes to New York to seek her fortune. The jobs are divided into the categories "Beautiful, Brainy, and Nice" with the emphasis on jobs which require good looks and personality rather than education. Jobs such as chorus girl, fashion editor, and social worker are suggested.

Dodd, Mead Publisher's File Copy Collection.


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