Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Education of Daughters

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


  1. Terrific post! May I quote you in a talk I'm giving next month? I'm reviewing THREE CUPS OF TEA by Greg Mortensen for our church women. He stresses the way to peace is educatiion of girls and boys, but he stresses girls because they train the next generation.

  2. Of course you may quote me. Where I quoted the book, I put quote marks, so that should help. Look up Lydia Child and see if there's anything online about her attitude about women. Basically, she is saying to make a good marriage, the young ladies need to be educated in how to run a household and how to be frugal.

  3. Oh, and if you haven't educated them in running a household, not push them into marriage.

  4. Bravo on this post. Here I was expecting all sorts of silly little advice on how to properly sip tea and sit unwavering under a gentleman's stare. Lydia Child was ahead of her time. Now if we could only get ALL women to raise their girls thusly, maybe the world would be in a much better place! Thanks for the great post Anna!

  5. What a great post. I'm going to bookmark this site since you know I'm a western romance author, too. Your post gave me a great idea for a new story, now all I have to do is finish my WIP. You always come up with such interesting things. I wish the mother's of my DIL's had taken them under their wings. *lol*

  6. Wonderful post, Anna. Do the foundations of life ever change?

  7. Hi, AJ, Ginger and Sandra. Thanks for stopping by.

    I know AJ, she was one smart woman. I was sometimes confused by what she was trying to, but I think I got the gist of it, basically what I said already, if you want her to marry and be happy, teach her how to run a house.

    Ginger, sorry I keep throwing the story ideas at Okay, not overly sorry. Glad I can help your fertile mind.

    Sandra, I was thinking the same thing as I read Mrs. Child's words.

  8. Anna, I enjoyed your blog. I wonder what Lydia would think about women today--those who have no choice but to work outside the home and spend as little time as possible cooking and cleaning :-)

  9. Hi Marin. I don't know what she'd think, as she seems to feel that a mother and wife's place to hearth and home. I think she'd cheer on those, however, who went to college and did a career before marriage.

  10. Hi Anna Kathryn, wow that lady who wrote that book sounds really smart. I think it would be wonderful if more folks these days did what the lady back then suggested. Thanks for the great post.

  11. Things have definitely changed! LOL!

  12. Fun post! And things have changed so much since then. And for the better in some instances.

  13. thank you. i love reading the 'old' books to have a feel for those times.

  14. I have a link to B&N for the book. Just roll over the title. And a link for a website on Mrs. Child where her name is first mentioned. This blog doesn't show links very well, so unless you accidentally roll over it you won't notice. But you can get the book via B&N for sure.


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