by Anna Kathryn Lanier
I spent last weekend in Cajun Country, Louisiana. It was a wonderful weekend, full of fun, friendship and food. There was also a lot of sightseeing and gift shop shopping. In one shop I found a reproduction of The American Frugal Housewife by Mrs. Lydia Maria Child, first printed in 1832. The book is full of essays and ideas on how to be frugal. One chapter is “Education of Daughters.”
“There is no subject so much connected with individual happiness and national prosperity as the education of daughters. It is a true, and therefore an old remark, that the situation and prospects of a country may be justly estimated by the character of its women….” (Well said, Mrs. Child!)
Mrs. Child, however, has strict ideas on what that education should entail. She is for the ordinary education of daughters, reading writing and arithmetic. However, she also believes, “The greatest and most universal error is, teaching girls to exaggerate the importance of getting married; and of course to place an undue importance upon the polite attention of gentlemen.” Especially when mama has not properly taught her daughter how to run a household.
Mrs. Child believes that there has been a recent absence of domestic education. And by domestic education, she does not refer to the sending of daughters into the kitchen for a day or two to be underfoot of the cook, only to brag of the experience in parlors for weeks on end. No, Mrs. Childs believes that domestic education should take place under the watchful eye of mama, over a course of years! The young girl should assist in her mother’s duties, care for younger siblings, and care for her own clothing.
Unfortunately, the childhood years are taken up by school, and when the young lady should be learning the domestic side of life, she is instead caught up in dress and flattery, balls and parties.
“What time,” asks Mrs. Child, “have they to cultivate the still and gentle affections, which must, in every situation of life, have such an important affect on a woman’s character and happiness?” It is the parents’ duty to teach their daughters not only “how to spend riches,” but how to bear poverty.
While it is nice for a daughter to know how to be accomplished in music and drawing, what good does either do a wife in the running of a household? Unless the daughter is exceptional in either, time and money would be better spent on learning duties and gaining a “solid foundation in mind and heart.” She goes on to say, “No one should be taught to consider them (music and drawing) valuable for mere parade and attraction. Making the education of girls such a series of ‘man-traps,’ makes the whole system unhealthy, by poisoning the motive.”
Mrs. Child’s expresses concerns that mamas are teaching their daughters to enjoy themselves while young, and single. They are teaching them not that “domestic life as a gathering of deepest and purest affections; as the sphere of woman’s enjoyments as well as her duties.” Instead they are projecting marriage “as a necessary sacrifice of her freedom and gaiety.”
Doing this is a disservice to daughters. They will not find domestic bliss, nor will their husbands. The wives will not know how run the home, how to manage money, nor how to cook. Her husband will become frustrated with her inabilities and, worse, her debts. Domestic bliss will be fleeting or an illusion. Marital unhappiness will ensue.
It is therefore, very important for mamas to take daughters under their wings and teach them how to run a household and how to be frugal. To teach them that life is not all gaiety and balls. Doing so will be a proper education for a young lady.
Anna Kathryn Lanier