Excerpts from: Gift Book for Young Ladies, Alcott. 1853:

“The word employment, indeed, in a very general sense, included everything which intelligent creatures can do. But there is a more particular sense, in which we frequently use it, viz., to designate or distinguish those avocations, or duties, or exercises, in which we habitually engage, in order to obtain our reputation or our livelihood.

“God has kindly made it necessary for mankind to labor, in order that they may eat and drink. That which many regard as a curse, in thus converted into a blessing. It is a blessing, because it prevents idleness, and its long train of dangers. It is a blessing, because it conduces to health; and this, in a thousand ways.

You are one of those who labor for a support, and who consequently, if you labor right, receive the blessings which are annexed. By means of this labor, you have escaped a thousand temptations and a thousand dangers. You have escaped also many diseases to which you would otherwise have been subjected, as well as much suffering which would have fallen to your lot, had not the diseases with which you have already been afflicted been greatly mitigated in regard to their severity, by your habits of exercise in the house and in the garden.

“Some young women have been less fortunate. Their employments have been assigned to them by parents who did not understand their temperaments, or their tendencies to disease. Perhaps they ought to have been house-keepers; but they have been made milliners or seamstresses. Their temperaments and diseased constitutions require active exercise and free space; but they have been deprived of both.

“Others, predisposed to scrofula or consumption, to whom active exercise, in the open air, is more necessary, if possible, than to any other class, are plunged into the factory. There, in a vitiated, overheated atmosphere, they spend twelve, fourteen, or sixteen hours of each day, and hardly breathe a better atmosphere when they return to their boarding-houses, and retire to their sleeping-rooms.

“Here again, you have been peculiarly fortunate. Had you been consigned, at ten, twelve, or fourteen years of age, to a hot, murky, foul air of a tailor’s shop, or the factory, or what is but little better, the confined and often very impure air of a millinery, you would probably have been laid in your grave seven or eight years ago. Or had you survived, your life would have been of little value to yourself, or to those around you.

“And yet your constitution is as well fitted for sedentary employments as hundreds and thousands, who are trained to them. But observe, if you please, that not all who are trained to an employment pursue it as a means of earning a livelihood. Not a few fall into their business, at least if they do not cripple themselves so as to be unfitted for any other.

“That a few die, as a result of a wrong choice of occupation by the parent, (for it is on parents and masters that the blame must, after all, principally fall,) though a great evil, is an evil not half so great as another which I could name – and which, indeed, I must advert to briefly , in order to complete my plan.

“I refer to the deterioration of the race, to which we belong. Now it is alike a doctrine of scripture and reason, that none of us live or die to ourselves. Indeed, such is the structure of society, that we cannot do so, if we would.

“Suppose a young woman goes into a factory as well ordered as those of Lowell. Suppose that by virtue of a good constitution, she does not actually become sick. Suppose she is even able to remain six, or eight, or ten years.

“Will any one say that because she does not die at the factory, or does not come out of it crippled for life, therefore no great mischief is done? Has the question ever yet been settled, which is the greatest actual loss to society, one person killed outright, or ten, or twenty, or forty injured; some of them greatly injured, for the rest of their lives?

“And as a whole tendency of the whole thing is and must be downward – that is, to the deterioration of successive generations – has it ever been ascertained how much more one life is worth in the present generation, than one in the next, or third? To explain a little. Suppose a course to be taken in life with regard to employment, which, while it permits the individual to linger out half her days or more amid many ills, yet with entire certainty entails an offspring the possibility – aye, the necessity – of dying prematurely, and of being good for nothing, except by being a burden to try the patience, and faith, and love of others. Is it settled that such a course is right?

“As the cultivation of our mother earth, in a rational manner, is, after all, the most honorable and most useful employment for our sex, so the kindred occupation of taking care of the house, and feeding the bodies, minds, and hearts of its occupants, is the noblest employment – the blessed prerogative, may I not call it – of your own.

Published in: on March 25, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Hired Girl – Looking for Previous Article

If anyone happens to know where I can find the 1860 Moore’s Rural, please let me know. I want to find the article previous to this one:

Hired Girl 61

Published in: on April 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Resources for Life

It is very easy to obtain book after book on “The Sphere of Woman,” “The Mission of Woman,” and “The Influence of Woman.” But to a practical mind it must be evident that good advice is not sufficient. That is very well, provided the reader is supplied with the comforts of life. But plans need to be devised, pursuits require to be opened, by which women can earn a respectable livelihood. It is the great want of the day. It is in order to meet that want that this work has been prepared. The few employments that been open to women are more than full. To withdraw a number from the few markets of female labor already crowded to excess, by directing them to avenues where they are wanted, would thereby benefit both parties.

At no time in our country’s history have so many women been thrown upon their own exertions. A million of men are on the battlefield, and thousands of women, formerly dependent on them, have lost or may lose their only support. Some of the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of soldiers, may take the vacancies created in business by their absence – others must seek new channels of labor.

An exact estimate of woman as she has been, and now is, furnishes a problem difficult to solve. Biographies and histories merely furnish a clue to what she has been. Prejudice has exaggerated these portraits. Woman as she now is, save in fiction and society, is scarcely known. The future position of woman is a matter of conjecture only. No mathematical nicety can be brought to bear upon the subject, for it is one not capable of data. More particularly is it difficult to define what her future condition in a business capacity will be. Man will have much to do with it, but woman more. I know of no work giving a true history of woman’s condition in a business capacity. Socially, morally, mentally, and religiously, she is written about; but not as a working, every-day reality, in any other capacity than that pertaining to home life. It has been to me a matter of surprise that some one has not presented the subject in a practical way, that would serve as an index to the opening of new occupations, and present feasibility of women engaging in many from which they are now debarred….

The work of a single woman has never been very clearly defined. Those that are without means are often without any to guide them; and the limited avenues of employment open to women, and the fear of becoming a burden on others, have poised some of their best hours and paralyzed some of the strongest powers. There is a large amount of female talent in the United States laying dormant for the want of cultivation, and there has been a large amount cultivated that is not brought into exercise for the want of definite plans and opportunities of making it available. It exist like an icicle, and requires the warmth of energy, thought, and independence to render it useful. It shrinks from forcing itself into notice, like the sensitive plant, and may live and die unseen and unknown. Widen, then, the theatre of action and enterprise to woman. Throw open productive fields of labor, and let her enter.


While I would like to continue on with Penny’s preface to her work, I will instead tell you she details 516 specific employments open to women and also includes articles on employments for the blind, deaf and disabled (lame in her words) as well as topics related to women’s employment. In each of her detailed articles, she addresses the statistics for the employment such as the numbers of women employed and where, the wages paid, hours worked, expected skills and instruction if available.

The Employments of Women: A Cylcopedia of Woman’s Work, by Virginia Penny (Boston: 1863)

Published in: on February 12, 2014 at 1:31 am  Comments (1)  
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The Millinery Market

This passage from Twelve Letters to a Young Milliner  says a good deal about the mindset of women in terms of fashion and shopping. The passage comes from an 1883 advice manual for new milliners set in the form of letters.

With this general idea of the quality of your stock the next question that will confront you will be this, “Where shall I buy?” If it were a stock of soap or of sugar, of boots of of bedsteads, the place they came from would be of little consequence. If the soap took out the dirt, the sugar sweetened the tea, the books kept out the water, and the bedsteads did not fall to pieces, it would matter but little to the customer whether they came originally from New York or from New Orleans, from Boston of from Buffalo; but when it comes to articles of wearing apparel into whos manufacture taste and fashion enter, the customer does wich to know wheterh they are bough in th ewoods or in the center of civiliazation. In articles of Millinery, in which fashion is so large an element, it is of the highest importance that they come from the center of fashion. Present to your customers two Hats, both of the same style and quality; mark the one, New York; the other, Smithville, which will be sold first? There is but one answer to the question. Even the woman that buys a Hat but once in five years, if one ther be, will choose the Hat marked New York. Now, you buy your goods to sell; therefore, buy goods that will sell. You have neither the time nor the money, nor is it your duty to teach a benighted generation that Smitheville goods are superior or equal to New York goods. A Milliner’s life is too short for any such Quitotic enterprise. This prejudice is favore of New York Millinery may be without foundation, may be unfair, but it exists; and a beginner in the trade, if she desires success, must yeild to that which is useless to resist. If it becomes noised abroad, in the beginning of your business career, that your goods are out of date, that they are old style, in a word unfashionable, you may as well dispose of your stock at acution and go into the book-peddling business. Let your neighbors see that your boxes and bundles have the New York mark upont them and your reputation for being in the height of fashion will be estableished. That such reputation is neede for success, you will not deny.”

 The same guide continues… A millinery saleswoman – “She will know the names of the braids used in Hats where and how they are made. She will inform herself about the reputation for taste acquired by different manufacturers and wholesale dealers. Her knowledge of artificial flowers, the materials used, mode of manufacture, will be as extensive as her reading can make it. It is said that the female nature has a large share of curiosity in its make-up. Some customers desire to know all these things. If they find your assistant able to give them this information in a pleasant and an agreeable manner they feel sure that you understand the business and that what you say is so and not guessed at.

Again, this knowledge of the goods enables the assistant to set forth their advantages in a stronger manner than she would otherwsie be able to do. This inspires confidence in the buyer, and the occasional buyer soon becomes a regular customer through the influence of your intelligent assistant.

Published in: on March 23, 2013 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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