The American Nation
Young Lady's Own Book


   Young Lady's Own Book is a manual of behavior that was wildly popular in America from the 1830's to the 1850's; it taught adolescents not only behavior patterns but an ideology of gender distinction, the patterns of sex relationships that were meant to define culture. When we speak of the women's movements, we need, of course, to balance this material with the texts and ideas they were reacting against, texts and ideas, unfortunately, most people, men and women, bought into. Mull over this brief selection: how does it compare with the Declaration of Sentiments, issued by the first women's emancipation conference in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848? Do you detect any Enlightenment ideas in this text?

   Your text is taken from Young Lady's Own Book (Philadelphia: Key, Mielke, and Biddle, 1833), pages 13 and 20.



   Domestic comfort is the chief source of a woman's influence, and the greatest debt society owes her; for happiness is almost an element of virtue, and nothing conduces more to improve the character of men than domestic peace. A woman may make a man's home delightful, and may thus increase his motives for virtuous exertion. She may refine and tranquillize his mind,—may turn away his anger or allay his grief. Her smile may be the happy influence to gladden his heart, and to disperse the cloud that gathers on his brow. And she will be loved in proportion as she makes those around her happy,—as she studies their tastes, and sympathizes in their feelings. In social relations, adaptation is therefore the true secret of her influence.

   Nothing is so likely to conciliate the affections of the other sex as a feeling that woman looks to them for support and guidance. In proportion as men are themselves superior, they are accessible to this appeal. On the contrary, they never feel interested in one, who seems disposed rather to offer, than to ask assistance. There is, indeed, something unfeminine in independence. It is contrary to nature and therefore it offends. We do not like to see a woman affecting tremors, but still less do we like to see her acting the amazon. A really sensible woman feels her depencdence. She does what she can, but she is conscious of inferiority, and therefore grateful for support. She knows she is the weaker vessel, and that it is as such that she should receive honor; and, in this view, her weakness is an attraction, not a blemish.

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1995, Richard Hooker
Updated 2-5-97