Beyond Domesticity: U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915


Introduction l True Womanhood l New Women l Growing Up Female l Political Women l Suffrage l Abolition l Women and War l Work Outside the Home l Cookery and Fancy-Work l Work Inside the Home l Mothering l Marriage l Marriage and Divorce l Regionalism l Travel l Bestsellers l Highlights l English 437: Students Research Rare Books

Cookery and Fancy-Work

ladies' fancy work
Ladies' Fancy Work

If cleaning, laundering, and other domestic chores were repetitive and relatively mindless, at least cooking and “Fancy-Work” – as any elaborate needlework was then known – provided women with opportunities to express their creativity. The well-worn “receipt” (or recipe books) exhibited here remind us how much time and energy women devoted to cooking in an era before store-bought, ready-made meals and desserts became widely available, while the patterns, especially more extravagant ones like the owl feather fan and the recreated nature scenes made out of food, suggest that some women had perhaps a little too much time on their hands.

Mrs. T. J. Crowen.

Every Lady’s Book: An Instructor in the Art of Making Every Variety ofPlain and Fancy Cakes, Pastry. . . By a Lady of New York.
New York: J. K. Wellman, 1845.
Gift of Sarah Crawford Fox.
every lady's book
An example of an early “receipt” or recipe book. Note that we don’t know every lady's book recipethe author’s first name or her lifespan, one of the consequences of a widespread tendency among female authors of this era to publish their works anonymously.


Anna Margaret Bennett.

Receipt Book, 1855.
Gift of Harry L. Hameter.
receipt bookThis manuscript cookbook contains Bennett’s personal recipes for desserts, jellies, meats, seafood, and potato dishes, as well as some home remedies such as those shown here. Several recipes were added later in a different hand.



“Two gallons = one peck”

Eliza Leslie, 1787-1858.

Directions for Cookery, in Its Various Branches.
Philadelphia: Carey & Hart, 1844. directions for cookery

Like the very popular House Book also by the celebrated “Miss Leslie” (see the next section on Work Inside the Home)  this recipe book – referred to as “Miss Leslie’s Complete Cookery” on the spine – was frequently reprinted (the copy on display is the 20th edition). Each reprint contained improvements, supplementary recipes, and in this edition, a new appendix.

“a complete and concise instructor in every variety of ornamental needle-work”

Matilda Marian Chesney Pullan.

the lady's manual of fancy workThe Lady’s Manual of Fancy Work: A Complete Instructor in Every Variety of Ornamental Needle-Work.
 fancy needleworkNew York: Dick & Fitzgerald, 1859.

This representative manual includes elaborate needlework instructions written in ink on its fly-leaves. The separation of spheres and the relegation of middle- and upper-class women to the home left these women looking for ways to fill their idle hours. Many took up “fancy work,” or decorative, ornamental needlework. As one woman wrote in 1837:
“A woman who does not know how to sew is as deficient in her education as a man who cannot write. Let her education in life be what it may, she cannot be ignorant of the use of her needle, without incommoding herself and others, and without neglecting some important duties. “


Mrs. C.S. Jones & Henry T. Williams.

Ladies Fancy Work: Hints and Helps to Home Taste and Recreations.
New York: H.T. Williams, 1877.
ladies fancy work
Fancy work became even more important to middle-class housewives barn owl hand screenand households during the Victorian era, and a plethora of fancy work manuals were published at this time. “Fancy fairs,” where fancywork was sold for fundraising purposes, were especially popular.




Textile Patterns, Godey’s Lady’s Book
Volume 55, September 1857.
tatting tidy
Most women’s magazines, including Godey’s, regularly devoted several pages an issue to fancy work patterns. textile patternsIn addition, fancy work suppliers ran regular advertisements in these magazines and in newspapers, suggesting the extent of the demand for their supplies.



Purse, ca. 1850-1875.
Collection of McKissick Museum, gift of Agnes Stone Dawsey.
hand-hooked wool carpet purse
This hand-hooked wool carpet purse, used by members of the Ransom and Butler families in Edgefield District (now Saluda County, SC) is the final product of a woman’s painstaking labor. By carrying this intricately patterned bag, a woman showed off her fine craftsmanship to the world. The brass-buttoned flap closure also ensured the contents’ privacy. Whether used to carry embroidery or small personal items, a woman’s bag was her own closely guarded property.

Needlework Kit, ca. 1860.
Collection of McKissick Museum, gift of Agnes Stone Dawsey.
needlework kit
Women stored sewing items like scissors, pincushions, thread, and material in small cases. Much like a man’s tool chest, this sewing kit housed a woman’s treasured necessities. 



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