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America's History in the Making

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Table of Contents to the Young Woman's Guide

Female capabilities. Doing every thing in the best possible manner. Unending progress. Every person and every occupation susceptible ofimprovement, indefinitely. Doing well what is before us. Anecdote illustrative of this principle. Personal duties. Two great classes of persons described. Hopes of reaching the ears of the selfish.

What self-government includes. Cheerfulness a duty. Discretion. Modesty. Diffidence. Courage. Vigilance. Thoughts and feelings. The affections. The temper. The appetites and passions.

Why woman has invented so few things. Abundant room for the exercise of her inventive powers. Hints.Particular need of a reform in cookery. Appeal to young women on this subject.

Great value of moments. An old maxim. Wasting shreds of time. Time more valuable than money. What are the most useful charities. Doing good by proxy. Value of time for reflection. Doing nothing. Rendering an account of our time at the last tribunal.

Reasons for loving domestic life. 1. Young women should have some avocation. Labor regarded as drudgery. 2. Domestic employment healthy. 3. It is pleasant. 4. It affords leisure for intellectual improvement. 5. It is favorable to social improvement. 6. It is the employment assigned them by Divine Providence, and is eminently conducive to moral improvement.—The moral lessons of domestic life. A well ordered home a miniature of heaven.

William Andrus Alcott, The Young Woman's Guide to Excellence, 10th edition (Boston: Waite, Pierce and Company, 1846).

Creator William Andrus Alcott
Context Middle-class women had more time to devote to improving themselves and their society
Audience Middle-class women
Purpose Moral instruction on women's proper sphere

Historical Significance

Industrialization affected middle-class women's lives in complex, often contradictory ways. On the one hand, poor factory workers' manufacture of cheap textiles and other goods that women had once toiled over in their homes freed up their time and talents for more engaging work.

Furthermore, the elaboration of home and domesticity as woman's special realm gave them, at least on paper, an enlarged sphere of influence. But the doctrine of separate spheres also emphasized that women were less fitted than men for public and intellectual life—even as more and more women had the time and inclination to take up such work.

One of the most influential dispensers of advice of his day, William Andrus Alcott authored dozens of books on health and education. Cousin to the noted novelist, Louisa May Alcott, he wrote the first edition of the Young Woman's Guide in the 1830s as a companion to his earlier guide for young men. Though much more sympathetic to women's rights than most men of the period, Alcott believed that they occupied a much different sphere from men.

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