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


Work Outside the Home


employment for women: a cyclopedia of woman's work
The Employment of Women: A Cyclopedia of Woman's Work

 

This section further complicates the notion that the home was really woman’s sphere. Whether the books exhibited here argue for a woman’s right to a professional career, narrate unconventional careers for women (silver mining, for instance), or reveal that the so-called “cult of domesticity” limited its membership to white, middle-class women, together they suggest that the story of women’s everyday lives prior to World War I very often unfolded “beyond domesticity.”



“I ask for woman, then, free, untrammeled access to all fields of labor.”

Caroline Wells Healey Dall, 1822-1912.

Woman’s Right to Labor, or Low Wages and Hard Work.
Boston: Walker, Wise and Co., 1860.
woman's right to labor or low wages and hard work
Caroline Dall, a disciple of Margaret Fuller, delivered a series of lectures on women’s right to meaningful and gainful employment before a Boston audience in November, 1859 and then turned those lectures into this book. Dall identifies underemployment as a leading cause of frustration in middle-class women. She maintains that women and men should be entitled to equal vocational opportunities and that women should receive equal pay for equivalent work.
 







Virginia Penny, b. 1826.

The Employment of Women: A Cyclopaedia of Woman’s Work.
Boston: Walker, Wise, 1863.
Author’s presentation copy. “Presented to the Library of Y.M.C.A. [Louisville] by the author, May 1868.”
occupations in which no women are employed
On these opposing pages Penny (who also published a series of articles “pertaining to men and women, work and wages” as well as a book entitled How Women Can Make Money) provides data not only on the occupations in the 1860s that did not employ women but also on the kinds of remunerative work that women in the South were likely to pursue outside the home.








“breathing from infancy to death an air saturated with fog and grease and soot, vileness for soul and body”

Rebecca Harding Davis, 1831-1910.

“Life in the Iron Mills.”
Atlantic Monthly, April 1861, pp. 430-451.
life in the iron-mills
Davis, the self-educated daughter of a mill owner, published this, her first and most famous story, anonymously in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly. Nathaniel Hawthorne numbered among the admirers of Davis’s anguished depiction of the grim and limited lives of a family of mill workers.










“a curious feeling, that all her life before had been a silly dream, and this dust, these desks and ledgers, were real,—all that was real”

Rebecca Harding Davis, 1831-1910.

Margret Howth: A Story of Today.
Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1862.
margaret howth: a story of today
Initially serialized in 1861 in six installments in the Atlantic Monthly, Margret Howth is Davis’s second published work and first novel. Like “Life in the Iron Mills,” Margret Howth is also set in a mill town, this one in Indiana. The novel depicts the hardships of the working poor and in particular of Margret herself, who handles the ledgers for a woolen mill. At her editor’s request, Davis rewrote the ending to make it happier.













“I want something to do.”

Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888.

Hospital Sketches: and Camp and Fireside Stories.
Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1869.
Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth Century American Literature.
hospital sketches and camp and fireside stories

First published in The Commonwealth, then as a book in 1863, Hospital Sketches provided Alcott with her first brush with fame. The book originated from Alcott’s experience as a Civil War volunteer nurse at the Union Hotel Hospital in Washington, D.C. Her nursing career was cut short when she contracted typhoid fever and was treated (as was common at the time) with mercury, which ruined Alcott’s formerly robust health and ultimately hastened her early death.












Helen Hunt Jackson, 1830-1885.

Nelly’s Silver Mine: A Story of Colorado Life.
Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1889.
nelly's silver minerob and nelly

Jackson is perhaps best remembered as an author of works for adults including Ramona, her 1884 novel about the plight of California Mission Indians, featured in the Bestsellers section of this exhibit. She is less remembered for her several children’s books, including this story, which originally appeared in 1878 and features a strong female protagonist doing unconventional work. The novel might also be considered an early contribution to the genre of the Western.










“Only as we live, think, feel, and work outside the home, do we become humanly developed, civilized, socialized.”

Charlotte Perkins Stetson [Gilman], 1860-1935.

Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Education.
Boston: Small, Maynard, & Company, 1898.
women and economicswomen and economics
Gilman’s first published treatise, composed in five separate houses and completed over the course of thirty-nine days (only seventeen of these devoted to writing), made her internationally famous. The book pronounces economic independence to be the answer to the “woman question.” So persuasive did her readers find her calls for progressive changes in gender roles that Gilman was hailed as the brains of the woman’s movement and Women and Economics as “the outstanding book on Feminism” and as “the book of the age.”











Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1860-1935.

"Human Work.”
The Forerunner, Volume II, November, 1911.
the forerunner
This poem, which Gilman published in her own one-woman magazine, human worksuccinctly summarizes her work philosophy and conveys the sharp distinction she drew between the world work or “human work” she praises and the narrowly defined and confining “woman’s work” she deplored.















“I believe that woman is the equal of man—if she is.
That woman is no better than man—unless she is.”

Alice Hubbard, 1861-1915.

Woman’s Work; Being an Inquiry and an Assumption.
East Aurora, NY: The Roycrofters, 1908.
woman's work being an inquiry and an assumption
This beautifully composed manifesto on woman’s woman's work being an inquiry and an assumptionright to work was produced by Hubbard and her husband Elbert in their print shop atthe Roycroft Community that Elbert founded in 1895. In 1910, a journalist described Alice as a mother and “a woman of varied occupation. She supervises the work in a manufacturing establishment employing five hundred people. She has charge of two unique hotels run as home, where visitors come from all over the globe. She is a writer on various subjects and assistant editor of two monthly magazines. She is the author of several books. She pays almost daily visits to her farm of three hundred acres, which provides all the food consumed in her extensive household.” The Hubbards drowned when the Lusitania sank in 1915.






“First Hoeing of Cotton” postcard, ca. 1915-1930
Collection of McKissick Museum.

first hoeing of cotton
Nineteenth century children were not exempt from difficult labor. The African American children featured in this postcard work barefoot in cotton fields, bearing large tools. Poverty and time-consuming work schedules frequently limited children’s opportunities for education and personal advancement. 






E.D.E.N. Southworth, 1819-1899.

Ishmael, Or, In The Depths.
Philadelphia: T. B. Peterson & Brothers, 1876.
ishmel or in the depthseden southworth
Southworth was enormously popular. Her story about Ishmael was published in two volumes after a run in magazines. She calls her story the best that she wrote in the preface. Those two books sold over two million copies each.
The story concerns a man who actually existed, according to the author, but is given a pseudonym and never revealed. Southworth calls this man a “guiding star” for the youth. The passage below describing Ishmael's birth, emphasizes Southworth’s view on woman workers, which is that they are victims of circumstance.
“It was in fact the thinnest, palest, puniest little object that had evercome into this world prematurely, uncalled for, and unwelcome. It did not look at all likely to live. ...Nor could Hannah desire that it should live. It had brought sorrow, death, and disgrace into the hut, and it had nothing but poverty, want, and shame for its portion in this world; and so the sooner it followed its mother the better, thought Hannah--short-sighted mortal.

...Reader, this boy is our hero; a real hero, too, who actually lived and suffered and toiled and triumphed in this land!

“Out of the depths” he came indeed! Out of the depths of poverty, sorrow, and degradation he rose, by God's blessing on his aspirations, to the very zenith of fame, honor, and glory!

He made his name, the only name he was legally entitled to bear--his poor wronged mother’s maiden-name--illustrious in the annals of our nation!
But this is to anticipate."

Label: Timothy Hand



Susan Warner, 1819-1885.

Opportunities.
New York: Williams Co., 1871.
opportunities
Susan Warner’s novels carried both political and religious messages. Her dedication tothat's her door yonder where the cat sitsreligion is seen not only in her life-long dedication to teaching others about Christianity, but through her writings. This particular novel would have been a tool to guide young women on a proper religious path as well as a way to address hypocrisy and fraudulent Christians. Warner’s writing also reveals unease with the idea of “women’s work” and women being solely confined to duties within the home. She seems to believe that while women should strive to be good wives and/or mothers, a woman’s true work is outside the home, bettering the lives of others. Her writing expresses a desire for greater women’s rights as well as compassion for the less fortunate. Both were extremely risky concepts to print without societal retributions, which makes Susan Warner a pioneer of her age.

Label: Ella Durham.




 

 

Next Page: Cookery and Fancy-Work

 

Columbia Departments Campus Libraries
Columbia Libraries and Collections