Intelligent Housewifery

The Good Housekeeper, Or the Way to Live Well, and to be Well While We Live: Containing Directions for Choosing and Preparing Food, in Regard to Health, Economy, and Taste…
Sarah Josepha Buell Hale
Weeks, Jordan and Company, 1839
I love vintage era housekeeping books.  I have loved them since I was quite young and my mother brought home an ancient encylcopaedia of homemaking that had belonged to my great-great-grandmother.  I was attempting recipes from it by the time I was 12 or so. I stumbled across this gem online recently.  I like my first such book because it was actually practical and useful and often had some excellent philosophy.  This one, however, alternately has me nodding easily along, and then howling in laughter which I am sure is obnoxious of me. No doubt, many of my own cherished opinions cause others to do the same thing already, let along 100 years from now.  But still, I yam what I yam, and laughing is part of that.  See if you laugh at the same things.   The thing is, however, she had reason for her remarks on the superiority of American education for girls- she had one of the best educations available to females and was a long time advocate of education for girls and useful work for women- she was enormously influential in America during her very long life. Read the wikipedia article above, it’s quite interesting.


“THE term housekeeper, in this book is used in its American signification, the same as “Mistress of the family,” or ” Lady of the house.” In our republican land, thanks to its rational institutions, which preserve in a high degree of purity the moral relations of domestic life, it is rare to find a married woman who does not superintend personally, the economy of her own household, let the wealth, profession, or political station of her husband be what it may. The most delicate lady, unless her ill health were the pretext, would scarcely boast of retaining a hired housekeeper to perform her duties ; and no lady would gain credit or consequence in society by so doing. In truth our richest and most fashionable women, are often models of good housekeeping ; many whose talents and. accomplishments would adorn the first circles of Europe, perform the woman’s part of superintending the affairs of their own household, as scrupulously and well as though they had been taught nothing besides.

That the American ladies are better educated in all the solid branches of learning, than those of any other country in the world there is no doubt—even Englishmen acknowledge their superior intelligence—and their good housekeeping proves the assertion of Miss Sedgwick true, namely, that the more intelligent a woman becomes, other things being equal, the more judiciously she will manage her domestic concerns. And we may add, that the more real knowledge she possesses of the great principles of morals, philosophy and human happiness, the more importance she will attach to her station and the name of a ” good housekeeper.” It is only the frivolous, and those who are superficially taught, or only instructed in showy accomplishments, who despise and neglect the ordinary duties of life as beneath their notice. Such persons have not sufficient clearness of reason to see that ” Domestic Economy” includes every thing which is calculated to make people love home and feel happy there.”


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