“I regret husband will not be with me”: The Wartime Letters of Abigail Chew
As we’ve begun to expand our understanding of USS Constitution’s 1812 crew over the past decade, we’ve learned that the shipboard lives of the officers, sailors, and Marines is only one part of a complex story. Though it was the men who fought the battles and suffered physical wounds, for the women left at home, wives, sisters, and mothers, the war brought its own traumas and hardships.
The letters exchanged by Constitution Purser Thomas J. Chew and his wife Abigail give us a glimpse into the personal lives of one upper middle class family and how they coped with the stresses of wartime. Both were exquisitely literate, and they wrote their letters in the lively, conversational tone so common at the time. In keeping with their playful nature, Abigail frequently signed her letters “your attached Hortensia”, a reference to a famous female orator of the Roman Republic. For his part, Thomas signed his letters, “your loving husband”.
|Purser Chew’s sea bag. Many of Abigail’s letters probably nestled in this bag. USS Constitution Museum collection, photo by David Bohl.|
Chew had secured a Navy purser’s commission in 1809 and joined Constitution’s crew on June 1, 1812. Thanks to Thomas’ position and other investments, the Chews were financially comfortable and did not suffer from the acute poverty that afflicted so many sailors’ families. Nevertheless, Abigail never became accustomed to Thomas’ frequent absences, nor reconciled to the dangers of his job. He came home briefly after Constitution’s successful battle with HMS Guerriere but was soon appointed to the ill-fated Chesapeake, commanded by his friend James Lawrence.
On June 1, 1813, Abigail sat to write to her husband, never guessing that at that very moment, the Chesapeake was engaged in a bloody battle with HMS Shannon. She wrote, “to assure you I continued to feel as cheerful as our separation would admit – I will not indulge myself with gloomy fears – but anticipate the pleasures your safe return, will, certainly produce -…adieu my Dear husband may heaven watch over & protect & may you soon be returned to the arms of an affectionate wife.” 
The American ship surrendered to the British. Stationed down below to oversee the moving of cartridges from the magazine to the guns, Thomas survived unscathed, but he was present when Capt. Lawrence issued his final command: “Don’t give up the ship”.
While worry and anxiety compelled Abigail to write to her husband, she sometimes wished to share with him the seemingly little details of life and family that he missed while away at sea. After the birth of their son James Lawrence (named, of course, after Thomas’ slain friend), Abigail kept Thomas abreast of his development: “You have ‘ere this received a letter from me & heard that Lawrence & myself were well – we continue to be so & the little fellow looks quite plump…to day he is four weeks old & weighs 7lb 1oz…” Only six days later, Abigail updated Thomas: “The boy continues well & to grow, his eyes are very brilliant and appear quite strong, his mouth, Tho’ not entirely well, is not troublesome. – his aunts discover daily new beauties.”
A week later, Abigail wrote again: “My little Lawrence is not taking his morning naps-…he is becoming a more substantial boy every day – he now weighs 8 ½, which is gaining very fast. Indeed he is a beautiful boy & looks just like his dady [sic].” Stationed far away at Sackets Harbor, NY, Thomas could only picture his son from the details Abigail gave him.
Though surrounded by a support system of family, friends, and neighbors, Abigail often felt the private pain of loneliness occasioned by her separation from Thomas, even for only a few days. On September 9, 1814, Abigail confided to a friend, my “husband left me very early yesterday morning for Portland, being Prize Agent for the Enterprize, & will not return till Saturday night-…To morrow is the anniversary of my wedding- I regret husband will not be with me that we might make merry together- I shall take my wine alone….”
The distance could be frustrating in other ways. With no sure way to deliver letters rapidly, if indeed they ever reached their destination at all, weeks could pass before news arrived home. In a half-scolding, half-teasing way, Abigail expressed her frustrations at visiting the post office, only to find that there were no letters waiting for her: “What must I think of your uncommon silence – neglect, I will not think it – you have never before given me cause to complain so justly- 3 weeks on Tuesday since you left & only one short letter of etiquette – surely I have not become less dear to you since your return from the Harbour – no my dear husband, I think too well of myself, to suppose your affection will cool easily- I must still think there is a detention of the mails & hope tomorrow will be more propitious.” The hoped for letters came a few days later, and Abigail could write, “At length, my dear husband, are my wishes gratified, & the reception of two letters this morning, have given me a new spring to my feelings- I find I must rail at the bad roads, & not again think you negligent.”
After long months of separation, the hope of an imminent reunion enthralled Abigail. The uncertainties of travel prevented her getting her hopes up, however: “Your last letter has given me more pleasure than any almost since you have been gone, as you hint at a return in a few days-I trust I shall not be disappointed in seeing you by the middle or last of the next week-I allow more than I otherwise should do, from having been disappointed in former calculations.”
|A coral brooch, earrings, and bracelet brought home for Abigail from the Mediterranean. USS Constitution Museum collection.|
At long last, Thomas came home. In the years following the war, he served on at least four other ships, but his absences did not prevent the young couple from creating a family. Little James Lawrence was the first of five children. Thomas resigned from the Navy for good in 1832 and lived happily with his little brood in Brooklyn, NY. He died in 1846 in his 70th year. Abigail outlived him by 28 years. In the end, they were laid to rest side by side in Brooklyn’s glorious Green-Wood Cemetery.
Matthew Brenckle (c) March 2013
Matthew Brenckle is Research Historian with the USS Constitution Museum, Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, MA 02129. www.ussconstiutionmuseum.org US 617-426-1812
 June 1, 1813, Chew Family Papers, Clement Library, University of Michigan.
 Ibid., May 1, 1814.
 Ibid., May 7, 1814.
Ibid., May 16, 1814.
 Ibid., September 9, 1814.
 Ibid., Nov 4, 1813.
CONTACT: Jodie McMenamin
USS Constitution Museum
617-426-1812, ext. 124
I was born in spring in 1940, given my mother’s name ‘Lilla’. My grandmother died before we met, but I know her through my mother. As a small child I grew up secure in my family. I knew my father, I knew my mother, I knew my sisters and brothers. It wasn’t until I began school that I was brought to a rude awakening. There was a black world and a white world. In the black world I was safe; in the white world I was unsafe.
It was obvious to me from my first school days that white people were unpredictable. This understanding of unpredictability came when my big sister took me to school for the first time and introduced me to her girlfriend’s little sister (who was starting school that day too). I thought I had made a friend for life. However that was not to be. Most white kids I met at school did not or would not play with me. Sometimes (rarely) they did. This is where the unpredictability came in. I was never sure when or if they would play with me. Eventually I worked out that they only ever spoke or played with me if there were no other (white) kids around.
Once, my middle brother was invited by a white boy in his class to a birthday party. When he came home and told us, we were excited for him. It was the very first time any of us had been invited to a birthday party. Mum washed his best shirt, pressed his best serge (short) pants, and sent him off all shining clean. Years later my brother told us that when he turned up at the party he wasn’t allowed in the door: the child’s mother had come to the door and, seeing who it was, demanded ‘What do you want?’ When he said he had come for the birthday party she sent her child out to say to my brother, ‘Sorry but you can’t come to my party because you’re black.’ That same brother was made to stand up in front of his class and empty his pockets whenever any money or a rubber or pencil was reported missing.
a bad dream
filled with nightmares
I never screamed
it’s frozen inside
can’t see …
I actually went to school wanting to learn, wanting to get to know other kids and to be part of everything at school.
I did most of my growing up in a small country town. One vivid memory is of going to school one morning when the whole school was buzzing with talk about how a family had been forced to move from their house into a disused dairy shed. The white children said it was dreadful that the family had to live in such terrible conditions. I couldn’t understand why they thought a disused dairy was a terrible place. We lived in a bag hut with a dirt floor and scraps of ironbark from trees straightened out by my dad for a roof. The diary was a well-constructed building with good solid walls and concrete floor. No one had offered us a dairy to live in.
went to school
to my awaited fate
how my head
like being squeezed
in a vice
and always, always
I was late
dragging my feet
in the dust
head bowed low
trying to think
of some excuse
to allow me
to go home
How I hated
‘education’s the thing’
I ‘d sit at my desk
and not learn a thing
and wish to hell
it had never
In my first year of primary school, I remember walking home one day with a group of white children ahead of me. They were calling a well-known Aboriginal couple awful names, throwing stones at them as they sat in the gutter in the street. I was shocked that children could be so disrespectful of grown-ups. As I walked past the couple sitting at the kerbside, their backs were towards me, so they could not see me. I walked about 50 yards down the road when I had a strong compulsion to go back, to acknowledge them.
My parents had taught us to respect elders. I could not ignore the Aboriginal couple in the gutter. I so I returned, walked out onto the road, and stood in front of them: ‘Hello Mrs Fuller!’ Hello, Mr Fuller!‘ They looked at me smiling. The man said: ‘Hello, little girl. You run along home now before it gets too late.’
I remember mum taking my two older sisters down to the local dances. She and I would stand on the verandah, looking through the doorway at my sisters dancing inside. They never danced with men; only with each other; except there was one fellow who they danced with occasionally and he was considered an outcast because he had been born out of wedlock. But he was the only man I ever saw them dance with in that small country town, and of course they were the only black people who ever went to those dances.
We lived in the bush during my middle primary school years. On Sundays my dad taught us to box. We drew a square in the dirt with a stick. That was the boxing ring. Those nearest each other in weight would be opponents. It did not matter that the boys boxed with the girls. Even weight was fairly unimportant; the serious matter was that we learned how to fight and how to defend ourselves.
My dad was a learned man. He taught us much, never differentiating between males or females in our family. When a job required doing, whoever was there did it regardless of whether they were female or male: tractor driving, truck driving, droving cattle, sewing bags of wheat, ring-barking trees, cotton picking, and on, and on.
My mum was an educated person in our terms. She had gone to third grade in primary school, but there wasn’t a word she couldn’t spell, not always correctly, but she never failed to spell a word. She knew the meaning of so many words. She was my dictionary in my growing years. Mum encouraged us to read as widely as possible and never once attempted to censor our reading. Our white counterparts at school were never, never allowed to read the newspaper the Truth . Of course it was old hat to us, the sex scandals, the murders, robbery with violence and so on. Our mum let us read it all. We were made to feel ashamed that our parents were so lax in allowing us to read anything, so we were never game to tell the white kids at school that we read that ‘awful’ paper.
Lilla Watson (c) 1987
Lilla Watson was born in Queensland, Australia, and lived in various country towns and in the capital, Brisbane, thenceforth. In 1979 she was appointed tutor in the Department of Social Work in the University of Queensland, the first Aboriginal to be appointed by that university. She conducted research and fieldwork in relation to problems faced by Aboriginal people in Queensland, and in 1980 was invited as an ‘Australian leader’ to attend the Australia’s Future conference hosted in Melbourne by Australian Frontiers.
This is an extract from ‘Sister, Black is the Colour of My Soul’ published in Different Lives – Reflections of the Women’s Movement and Visions of Its Future published by Penguin Books Australia, Melbourne, Australia, in 1987, Jocelynne A. Scutt, ed.
In January the Greenwich University Centre for the Study of Play and Recreation launched ‘Children and the Law’ as a new strand in its programme. The conference introducing the strand was supported by the Centre together with the London Network for the History of Children, the Society for the Study of Childhood in the Past, the University of Greenwich Safeguarding Hub, and the Life-Cycles seminar, Institute of Historical Research. The flyer announcing the launch and conference noted that despite the uproar surrounding ‘the activities of sometime celebrity and BBC identity Jimmy Savile many ‘important questions have not been raised nor addressed’:
‘Why are the voices of the young not listened to or considered of value in the courts or in legal processes? Conversely, how could legal systems be better adapted to respond to the voices and concerns of the young, rather than excluding or labeling them through increased criminalisation or limitation of resources such as housing?’
‘Children’ includes both girls and boys, as the presentations during the day conference affirmed. Yet for historians concerned about women’s rights and the impact of the law on women, many had a particular resonance. Girls are recognised by the United Nations as being particularly disadvantaged the world over, simply by reason of being female. This was significant in the presentation by Dr Ishita Pande of Queen’s University, Ontario, entitled ‘Sexology, the Education of Desire and the Conduct of Childhood in Late Colonial India’ and the accompanying paper in that session, ‘Courtrooms and Truth Telling – What Chance a Child?’ by the author of this WHN Blog.
Dr Pande analysed sexological literature produced in India between 1891 and 1929. That period was selected because the age of consent was raised to twelve years for ‘women’ in 1891, and in 1929 ‘a path breaking law sought to restrain the marriage of “children” below fourteen’. How, asked Dr Pande, did ‘vernacular sexology help constitute, contest and disseminate norms of childhood’ in India. In this, she referred to the effect Havelock Ellis, through his research and writings, had in India – an effect that, participants noted, was profound throughout the Western World, extending not only into psychological and psychiatric discourse, but impacting on the law in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand as well as India.
The issue of child-brides and child-wives is one that continues to engage the law and social sciences today, as well as the United Nations in its efforts to gain recognition of the negative consequences of child marriage and its impact, particularly, on girl children. The Parliament and courts of the United Kingdom have been involved, with Parliament endeavouring to outlaw child marriage through immigration restrictions. The courts have, however, obliged the government to return to the legislative drafting board to ensure that legitimate, consensual arrangements between young adults are not impacted.
That the issues surrounding child marriage are not isolated to India was apparent in that Dr Pandit’s paper led to a lively discussion on child marriage in India and other parts of the subcontinent, its existence in other parts of the world, and its relevance to countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia in light of migration.
Children as offenders and as offended against was the subject of Dr Lily Chang’s paper and that of Penny Wilcox. Dr Chang, of Magdalene College, Cambridge, presented ‘in absentia’ under the title ‘Adjudicating War: Juvenile Offenders in Wartime China, 1937-1945′. She took as her subject the rise in juvenile crime following the First World War and Great Depression, and up to the War of Resistance fought by China against Japan. Her research was based on legal case records of juvenile offenders, previously unexamined, adjudicated by the ‘collaborationist’ Shaghai District Court for the First Special Area. In this, Dr Chang looked at war in its social impact on juveniles living in urban areas, and ‘how the Court attempted to challenge the liminal space occupied by juveniles within the legal sphere that once marked the parameters of childhood and adulthood’ by legal definition. She sought to illustrate how the war ‘crystallised’ the Court’s attempts to ‘introduce the process of a “legal construction of childhood” through an analysis of its legal reasoning towards juvenile offenders under wartime conditions’.
Solicitor Penny Wilcox looked at ‘Changes in Youth Justice post 1998′, subtitling her presentation ‘A Practitioner’s View’. The watershed year of 1998 was chosen because it was in 1998 that the major report Misspent Youth was published, leading to the establishment of the Youth Justice Board, the development of Youth Offending Teams, and ‘changes in custodial regimes’. Ms Wilcox emphasised the low age of criminal responsibility existing in the United Kingdom as contrasted with that existing elsewhere in the European Union, and focused on identifiable groups of young people, including youth ‘in care’, black and minority ethnic youth, youth with learning or other difficulties, and girls’. For girls, the notion that there is a rise in violence and, hence, violent crimes committed by girls, along with the rise of ‘girls in gangs’ is prevalent today, although this notion has been articulated in times past. Particularly in the nineteenth century, ’girls in gangs’ was written of in the United States as in the United Kingdom, and the rise (as it was seen) of ‘the Women’s Movement’ in the 1970s led to a spate of criminological and populist writing suggesting that this movement was ‘turning girls and women to crime’, particularly violent crime. Here, it is difficult to determine whether indeed numbers are ‘soaring’ (although generally violent crimes against the person remain stable over time), or whether courts and care agencies are treating girls and women differently in different periods.
The highlighting of ‘learning difficulties’ in Ms Wilcox presentation was prescient, for education consultant Katherine Marshall of Waltham Forest Dyslexia Association followed with her own presentation on issues relating to the law and dyslexia, and ways in which law and practice need to catch up with developing knowledge in the field. Although dyslexia has been seen as primarily a ‘boys’ learning issue’, Ms Marshall’s presentation made clear that this is not so. She posited that girls may be and have been more likely to be able to ‘cover up’ the condition, through being less visible in the education system or being consigned to educational streams where dyslexia was less evident.
Dr Lucy Bland of King’s College, London, provided introductory insights into her new field of research, ‘Adoption and Ethnicity: thoughts on the study of mixed-race GI babies in Second World War Britain’. She became interested in pursuing this research in consequence of a 2012 change announced by the United Kingdom government, that local authorities would be required to reduce delays in adoption by ‘no longer seeking the “perfect ethnic match”‘, otherwise known as ‘racial matching’ or ‘same race’ policy. Dr Bland’s presentation was particularly invigorating as she sought comment on the direction of her research and the way her research might be enhanced. To date, she has found little research into adoption and particularly the issues relating to GI babies in the United Kingdom.
The launch of the ‘Children and the Law’ stream was complemented by the launch of the University of Greenwich Safeguarding Hub, announced at the conference by its initiator, Janet Webb of the School of Health and Social Care. This is an important initiative, as is the inclusion of the ‘Children and the Law’ strand. Both have a significance in terms of current events, as well as providing avenues for exploration of history, particularly in relation to women and girls.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) February 2013
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt is Visiting Professor at the University of Buckingham. A short piece on the issues raised by the Jimmy Savile revellations is published as ‘Charity, Celebrity and the Corporate Condonation of Child Sexual Abuse’, OnLine Opinion, 19 November 2012, http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=14367 (accessed 19 November 2012)
My mother had eight of us. Four boys came first, then four girls. I came second last. Because she had boys before girls, my mother trained the boys to cook a meal, wash up, and do other work around the house. They were still young when they were almost running the place: she supervised the washing and, without urging, they hung it out to dry, brought it in and ironed each garment as she would have it ironed, without a crease. They cooked rice puddings and pineapple dumplings and knocked the heads off the chooks on Saturday night for Sunday dinner. When the girls came, life was not so tough. As we grew up, whoever washed up didn’t dry the dishes.
It’s easy now for me to look back on my early relationship with my mother. Because she bound me to her it was difficult for me to think kindly of her for many years. Not until I had matured was I comfortable thinking of us. She was the woman for whom I was a comfort. I was a perverse and strong-headed adolescent. I warm now as I think of my return home after a day at school when she would cut me a piece of her fruit pie or a slab of her cold taro pudding, urging me to eat up and not to take too long as she wanted to brush my hair. With her silver-backed hairbrush (which I thought was as heavy as lead) she sat on the front steps of the house with my head in her lap, brushing as she softly hummed some favourite aria. Then just as I was about to doze off to sleep she would begin to sing and beat time with a foot, and the beating of time would arouse me. When she became involved with the song I would worm my way out of her lap and take flight to my cubbyhouse on the top boughs of the mulberry tree. She just sat and sang. When almost all the family had come home from school or work, she would call me down to set the table with her ever constant warning burning in my ears ‘not to forget the table napkins’. She made them from empty flour bags or old sheets too worn to be patched.
My mother made our clothes and was particular about the quality of cloth she used. Twice a year she took me with my sisters into the township where we were allowed to choose the colour of the cloth we liked best for our summer and winter dresses. Then came weeks of sewing. I hung around the machine as she pedalled and marvelled at her dextrousness.
After my father died and the boys left home to work on farms in the district, I often caught my mother weeping and between her sobs she hummed the verse of a sad hymn. My heart ached terribly for her but I did not have the strength to comfort or help release her pain. As the family thinned out she caught me to her, r0ping me in. I was being fastened to her emotionally.
Then the Depression came. We no longer had good quality cloth for our dresses and there was less dried fruit for the Sunday plum pudding. We began to rely more on our garden produce. The herbs were kept watered and the compost more carefully utlised. Men, mainly young, began to appear at our place, brown skinned, lean and almost gaunt. They would tell mother they would be willing to cut some wood for her, simply for a little bread or whatever she had to offer. Few appeared strong enough to swing an axe and our larder was low so, like us, they could pick from a fruit tree or be given a spoon and taken into the pineapple patch, where with a big kitchen knife we could chop the tops off the fruit and let them shovel the flesh into their mouths. We’d hang around a little distance away looking at them, remembering that we had been told always not to watch people eating because it was bad mannered. When they scooped the last drop of juice we asked politely for the spoons. At first Mother gathered us around her when the dogs began to bark but as the months rolled by she became accustomed to the men’s coming and it did not trouble her. She began making a pot of tea, sitting with them as they drank and asking about their families or just sitting in the stillness and feeling their disillusionment. Some talked about incomplete university courses and their fathers’ lost jobs; others told of evictions by landlords and the family furniture being put into the streets. The terrible hunger pains were forever in their bellies.
Mother’s face began to furrow with earnestness. These decent people in their worn clothes appeared from another country where people were always poor. She like so many did not understand what was happening. There had always been enough, even if not more than enough. The future breaking open before her filled her with misgivings for our future.
In the depths of the Depression I was summoned to rise, wash and dress in my best, and was taken by mother to church for holy communion. She put her offering in a little brown envelope. At first it was a shilling, then sixpence and later threepence. I envied the daughters of our Catholic neighbours as they drove to and from church in their rubber-tyred sulkies drawn by bay trotters. I’d go home and dream before sleep that one day I would own a car and pick up those who were walking.
The Depression sharpened. I left home for the city of Brisbane where I was no stranger. My grandmother was living there and we had often spent our school holidays with her.
One Sunday night while listening to the radio we heard the Declaration of War announced. Europe was in political turmoil. The Jews were suffering extreme persecution, the Czechs and Austrians were trodden under the heel of Hitler. Unlike most of my friends I was well informed of the crisis in Europe. I was a reader. It was in the family. My father never went to bed before he read the daily ‘local’. My brothers bought the city weeklies as well as the local and mother regularly bought the London Daily Mirror. A newspaper has always been more important to me to begin the day than a cup of tea.
The Declaration of War did not surprise me. One day in 1940 one of my brothers appeared in uniform to bid me farewell. He was about to leave for a war zone. He died on the Burma Railway.
Faith Bandler (c) 1992
Author Faith Bandler has been a member of many organisations working for positive change in Australia, and in the world, including the Aboriginal Australian Fellowship (AAF), the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL), and the Australian South Seas Islands National Council. Her father was Blackbird-ed from the Pacific Islands to work in slavery in the sugar plantations in northern Australia’s colony – now state – of Queensland. Faith Bandler was prominent in the struggle for recognition of Indigenous Australians, Torres Strait and Pacific Islanders as citizens of Australia, and in the campaign for the 1967 Referendum to remove racism from the Australian Constitution.
This is an extract from ‘A Good Innings’ in As a Woman – Writing Women’s Lives (Jocelynne A. Scutt, ed.), Artemis Publishing, Australia, 1992.
The 1970s Women’s Liberation Movement saw 24 hour childcare as an essential plank of women’s rightful demands. Conservative forces wilfully interpreted this as indicative of a desire on the part of women to be free of motherhood: anyone who would listen was assailed with tales of women’s wishing to ‘dump’ their children in childcare centres for entire days. This was far from women’s aim. Recognising that many women shared motherhood responsibilities with the responsibilities of paidwork, and that many worked shifts, the demand was framed so as to incorp0rate egalitarian needs. With many women working in factories or as nurses, it was evident that childcare run from 9.00am to 5.00pm would not encompass the necessities of their daily lives. Even for women working ‘regular’ jobs and hours, leeway was necessary to ensure women could arrive at work on time and engage in paid employment that fitted into what was seen as the ‘ordinary’ working day.
Kindergartens long pre-dated the 1970s Movement, and childcare was part of government action during wartime, in particular. In both the First and Second World War, governments – local, regional/state and national – established centres for children who were below school age or who required after-school care. Kindergarten teachers and childcare workers devised forms of play and instruction that encouraged childhood development and recognised children’s right to benefit from childcare – even if the motive in establishing these centres was related to the war effort and the need to ensure that women could move into posts vacated by men joining up and going to the front.
Today, the right to play – for all children, girls and boys - has a firm place on the rights agenda. The Convention on the Rights of the Child – signed up to by all United Nations members apart from two (Somalia and the United States) incorporates this right specifically in Article 31. Play as a right can be read into other provisions of the Convention, as well. Presently, a committee comprising NGOs dedicated to affirming and supporting children and children’s rights is working on an agreed communique expanding upon or explaining the terms of Article 31. The aim is to ensure that Article 31 is acknowledged as central to children’s rights and to the Convention, and that the notion of ‘play’ as a right is not given a limited interpretation, nor subjugated to other provisions.
The work of the NGO committee was the subject of discussion at the 26th World Play Conference held in Estonia from 17-19 June 2012 at the University of Tallinn. Jan Van Gils, President of the International Council for Children’s Play (ICCP), led a lively discussion encompassing issues going to the nature of play, the right to leisure, and what these mean in principle and practice.
Play is critical to physical, social and psychological development of all children, girls and boys. Girls may be particularly susceptible to a narrowing or limiting of the scope of ‘play-rights’ in consequence of social or cultural demands. Cultural denial of girls to be outside or to run, jump and engage in outdoor activities cannot be allowed to override the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of sex/gender which has a firm place in UN treaties, covenants and conventions and is applicable to children as well as adults. Girls’ right to play cannot, either, be subjugated to a notion that household tasks and duties take precedence. Indeed, the Convention on the Rights of the Child makes this clear. Article 1 provides that discrimination breaches the Convention.
The imagination children bring to play and their ability to make play ‘work’ in conditions that, at first glance, appear to be discouraging, was evident in many presentations and exchanges that followed. Dr Jennifer Cartmel’s presentation gave a particular insight into the capacity of children to play in an adult environment – both making the space their own and incorporating adult roles into their play. The initiative exhibited by girls, in particular, resonates in itself as well as providing insights into the way women’s lived histories are influencing girls’ appreciation of their own worth and the value of their own ideas.
Dr Cartmel (of Australia’s Griffith University) was assigned the task of providing play in a boardroom: a company wished to extend to their employees’ children a week of childcare on the business premises. This meant taking over a boardroom on the 18th floor of a busy office building. Armed with craft materials, cartons, fabric, masking tape and various items she saw as lending themselves to engaging children in play, Jennifer Cartmel advanced into a room that was set up for adult meetings, not children’s play. Ultimately, neither she nor the children were daunted: the children adapted to the space or, rather, adapted the space to themselves.
On the first day, one young girl requested ‘job descriptions’ which she saw as essential to organising play: clearly, the boardroom atmosphere appeared to have had some influence on her perception of play-in-the-space. Being eager to showcase the group’s talents, the child nominated job descriptions as a necessary foundation to the holding of a fashion parade, which duly went ahead, sans manufactured job descriptions. Recognising the importance of non-directed play and the necessity of the freedom to play, Jennifer Cartmel’s approach was not to impose upon the children or ‘dictate’ to them by her producing ‘duty lists’, but to provide scope for the children themselves to work out how they should undertake the various tasks and who should be assigned them.
Girls’ confidence in play settings was evidenced also in their approach to cubby-building. Constructing a canopied structure by adding swathes of material to a small tent, they commandeered the space for their meetings. Ensconced in the tent, they played out corporate roles – taking advantage of the ‘boardroom atmosphere’ rather than allowing it to limit the parameters of their play.
When window cleaners advanced up to the 18th floor on a pulley-and-plank system some of the children perceived as dangerous, one girl (with an offsider) invented a prototype harness. She explained to Dr Cartmel that the prototype would ensure safety for window cleaners working on all levels and particularly up high. She added, however, that she intended to preserve the harness and the ideas that had gone into its development – until she was older. Being a child, she said, there would be little chance of the prototype being taken seriously by government or manufacturers: ‘they won’t listen’, she said, because ‘they won’t take a child seriously’. However, she added, ‘they will when I’m older’. Then, the prototype would be seen for the valuable aid it should be.
So, history, women’s demands and children’s rights collide. This collision – both constructive and instructive – illustrates the way in which principle and theory become embedded in practice and the actuality of girls and women’s lives. The historical struggle by women for education and employment opportunities resonates with girls in their own world of play. The demand of women for the right of girls to an education, played out in the West and mirrored around the globe, presently occurring in Afghanistan (for example) with the work of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan), is vital to the advancement of girls’ right to be human. Play is a part of this and, as the work of those engaged in the ‘play’ movement indicates, the right of girls to play is fundamental. The space in which to exercise this right is a necessary component. The right to space cannot be denied on the grounds of sex, or age. Girls’ right to space to play is a right to be exercised – inside and out.
‘Growing Up Feminist – The New Generation of Australian Women’ and ‘Growing Up Feminist Too – Raising Women, Raising Consciousness’ are amongst the books in the Artemis ‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives’ series edited by Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt, whose mother was a kindergarten teacher - providing her daughters with a memorable childhood.
The 31 May 2012 saw the University of Greenwich host ‘Youth, Recreation and Play’, a conference bringing together youth workers, school pupils, artists working on community arts projects, students from George Williams College and Greenwich University, and local and international academics from a range of disciplines. The conclusion of the conference saw Dr Mary Clare Martin, its organiser and founder (with Dr Keith Cranwell) of the Centre for the Study of Play and Recreation, launch the London Network for the History of Children.
Three plenary sessions – ‘Play and Legal Liability’, ‘Play, Space and Boundaries’ and ‘Empowering the Young? Citizenship and Activism’ sandwiched two streams. The first, ‘The Development of Youth Work’ included papers having an historical and socio-economic perspective, whilst the second, ‘Theoretical and Educational Developments’ focused on the socio-economic and the psychological vis-à-vis childhood development, youth and adult maturation, educational organisation, and the politics of education and employment policy.
Presentations from six Bedonwell Junior School students (three girls, three boys) opened the conference. They recounted their role and self-development through participation in and leadership of the school’s ‘Guardian Angels’ programme. Designed to support younger pupils by ensuring all have playtime companions, and to encourage positive caring and sharing together with principled citizenship within the school environment, Guardian Angels is a mentoring and skills awareness concept-in-practice consequent upon the work of Deputy Head Heather Soanes and June Vincent, SENCO. The students spoke of their leadership as Guardian Angels arising out of their ‘shadowing’ (as younger students) students holding the role before them and how they, in turn, mentored their own ‘shadows’.
Of particular interest to historians, sociologists and political scientists exploring women’s role was a session on ‘Youth Work Provision: Catering for Minorities?’ Anne Hughes of the University of Southampton and Dr Mary Clare Martin delivered papers on, respectively, ‘A Good Jew and a Good Englishman’: Religion in Jewish Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, 1880-1930’, and ‘Disability and the Girl Guide Association 1900-1950: Heroic Patience or Active Engagement’.
Anne Hughes’ research and reflections on late nineteenth and early twentieth century creation of young people’s clubs by wealthy philanthropists, particularly in London’s Jewish community, will remind 2011 Women’s History Network Conference participants of the holdings in the Women’s Library. One of the Vera Douwie Scholars at the 2011 WHN conference revealed the existence of a significant archive, including written material and photographs, featuring East End clubs and their initiation and support by well-heeled West End Jewish women.
Anne Hughes highlighted the gendered-focus of the clubs, where ‘sports were a main focus of their activities’, however:
‘Within boys’ clubs, sport and militarism was the primary focus of the activities, with religious elements included as a way to promote sportsmanship or strength of body. For the girls’ clubs, religion was seen as a way to promote the ideals of femininity … [T]raditional English and Jewish notions of womanhood and manhood affected the inclusions of religious elements.’
Another side of ‘clubs for girls’ was evident in Mary Clare Martin’s trawling of Girl Guides’ archives to illuminate the ‘principle of inclusion’ enshrined in the Guide Law, ‘A Guide is a sister to every other Guide’ and how it worked in practice:
‘Many of the developments within the GGA [Girl Guides Association] began at grass roots level. From 1919, companies were founded in institutions. From 1921, an organization called Extension Guides was set up to enable “invalid, cripple, blind and deaf girls living in their own homes to become Guides”.’
‘Badge requirements were adapted to make it possible’ for Guides with a disability ‘to achieve’. As well, ‘special camps were organised for different groups’:
‘While the photo of a Guide in uniform lying in bed making a pretend camp fire might seem distant from the experiences of those who could move freely in the open air, the rhetoric emphasized how Guides were all one family, with only minor differences. Indeed, the association claimed that Guiding was the one thing which could dispel the sense of isolation and difference experienced by disabled Guides.’
Dr Martin’s analysis of archival records provided answers to questions including ‘whether images of heroic suffering and patience dominate over the more pro-active discourses emphasizing achievement and potential’, whether the GGA promoted ‘a medical or a social model of disability’, and whether Guides with a disability were ‘able to participate in the same activities as their peer group’. She observed that, as may be expected, the picture is complex:
‘Some accounts eulogize girls who were models of patience. One girl who had to lie in bed all the time made friends with the birds who flew in. In 1946, Daphne was presented with the “Badge of Fortitude”. She spent all her life in a plaster bed but could still do gardening from her spinal chair was “the friend of all the children in the neighourhood”. Nevertheless, pictures and stories of girls [with a disability] at camp also emphasized the value of the outdoor smells, sounds and relative freedom to blind girls, or how “higher-grade defectives” were almost the same as other Guides, and badge requirements should remain the same …’
A plenary session on the legal implications of play raised questions which continued through the day: whether, in play, girls and boys are treated differently, with stereotypes dogging the footsteps of the sexes when it comes to what, as children, they are permitted to do and what is affirmed or condemned. Edward Phillips (University of Greenwich) ‘Boys will be Boys: Legal Culpability for Sport and Horseplay’ led to participants questioning whether ‘girls will be girls’ is accepted within schools and the law as a positive or negative notion, and what relationship it might have to its ‘boys will be boys’ equivalent. Or is there any equivalence at all? Are girls as girls engaging in recreational activities in the school ground expected to conform to a more passive picture of performance so that stepping out of that role may lead to condemnation not experienced by boys?
‘Youth, Recreation and Play’ followed on from the January 2012 conference, ‘Rethinking the History of Childhood’. It anticipates another January conference for 2013, focusing on issues surrounding play, recreation and the law. This is particularly apposite, for both the January 2012 and the present conference highlighted the central role played by the law in childhood and the activities of childhood, not the least in recreation and play. Myriad questions rise in the field, too, for adults in recreational activities.
Note: The conference programme in its entirety, including all titles of papers and presenters, may be found on the Greenwich University website.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s books include Growing Up Feminist – The New Generation of Australian Women and Growing Up Feminist Too – Raising Women, Raising Consciousness, volumes in the Artemis ‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives’ series.
Despite pink’s high profile as a ‘girlie’ colour, in Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls from the Boys in America, Jo B. Paoletti points out: ”For centuries … children wore dainty white dresses up to age 6.’ Colours as sex/gender signifiers did not take hold until just before the first world war. Paoletti cites the June 1918 issue of trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants Department: ’The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, … more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.’ Other publications considered blue to be ‘flattering for blonds’, whilst pink was the colour for brunettes. Alternatively, ‘blue was for blue-eyed babies, pink for [the] brown-eyed … ’ . Stores carrying infants’ clothes and associated products took the ‘pink is for boys’ line.
Contradictions inherent in ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ exist, too, in directives as to ‘appropriate’ attire for boys and girls. Jeanne Maglaty of Washington’s Smithsonian Institute observes that childhood photographs of Franklin D. Roosevelt are ‘typical of his time’. Photographs from 1884 show him at two years, wearing an ankle-length white dress, his head a profusion of ringlets. Not until age 6 or 7 was a distinction made in dress: frocks for girls, short pants – later trousers – for boys. Within the last fifty years, dress distinction was neutralised by the coming of rompers – a trouser suit, generally with bib and braces. Then, both girls and boys wore trousers – reverting to the gender neutrality of Roosevelt’s time, albeit in the opposite direction.
Pink features not only in baby clothing. In the pop world, pink’s illustrious aura has no sex/gender distinction. Pinkney Anderson came out of South Carolina and the Indian Remedy Company’s travelling road as major force for jazz and blues. ‘Pink’ Anderson’s major albums include American Street Songs and Carolina Medicine Show Hokum & Blues. Anderson’s force as a musical power lives on through Pink Floyd, where ‘Pink’ is for Anderson, Floyd a tribute to Floyd Council.
Meanwhile, musical men have no ‘pink’ monopoly. Known universally by her stage name rather than ‘Alecia Beth Moore’, Pink turned victimisation in to survivorship, powerlessness into power. Like Anderson, she took her title from childhood, converting a bad experience into an expression of confidence:
‘It’s just a nickname that’s been following me my whole life. It was a mean thing at first, some kids at camp pulled my pants down and I blushed so much, and they were like, ‘Ha ha! Look at her! She’s pink!’ and then the movie Reservoir Dogs came out – and Mr Pink was the one with the smart mouth, so it just happened all over again … ’
Yet negative connotations have been attributed to the colour pink: pink has been getting a bad name as in PinkStinks, ‘the campaign for real role models’ where ‘the culture of pink’ is challenged in seeking to give girls ‘inspiration to achieve great things’.
The Observer’ s Zoe Woods reports on PinkStinks’ ‘… campaign against the toy industry’s narrow view of gender roles’ with Hamleys ceasing to label its floors in blue for boys, pink for girls, and rearranging toys ‘by type rather than gender’. Concerns about the commercialisation of the ‘pink is for girls’ phenomenon has made Disney shops a target, filled as they are with row upon row of pink tutus, pink fairy wings, pink wands, pink make-up cases with miniature pink lipstick tubes, powder puffs, hairclips, bows – alongside shops featuring lacy pink underwear including ‘trainer bras’.
Yet should the feminist fightback against what Peggy Orenstein, in Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, terms ‘the princess industrial complex’, be directed toward labelling pink as powerless and pernicious?
Pink’s association with power and strength is notable. Girl babies survive at far higher rates than do boy babies. Stanford, Yale and Brown medical schools’ research shows girls born preterm do better than boys, with premature birth creating ‘greater problems’ and producing more lasting brain effects in boys. Far from being ‘passive’, ‘submissive’, flaccid, inert or any of those other antonyms decrying pink, girl babies and girl children have strengths which may be overlooked. This does not mean these strengths are not there.
‘Tomboy’ exists because girls climb trees, swing from monkey-bars, play rough and tumble games including softball, basketball and hockey. Far from being ‘sissy’, skippy or skip-the-rope requires coordination, agility and muscle power. Even activities placed firmly into the domain of the ‘weak’ by those who abjure the tutu, dance is far from lacking strength and power. The ability to move to music is recognised, too, as a potent factor in gaining psychological equilibrium and sense of self, both vital to well-being.
So are affirmations of pink as a power signifier anti-feminist? Do those affirming pink’s power undercut girls and women’s ability to grow-up as humanbeings of strength and fortitude? Is there a generational divide here, as asserted in the controversy surrounding the ‘Slut Walk’ movement?
The controversy over ‘slut’ was not that those demurring or objecting did not support the original marchers in Canada, where a police officer unwisely asserted that rape was a caused by women ‘dressing like sluts’. Clearly, he was wrong. Rape is a consequence of male assertion of ‘right’ over the woman who says no or who does not say yes. Rather, the controversy related to whether ‘slut’ could be ‘reclaimed’ as a word affirming women and womanhood.
Unlike ‘mistress’, ‘spinster’, ‘loose woman’ and ‘pink’, ‘slut’ has never had a positive meaning, nor positive connotations for women. Once, a mistress was a woman of power in the household, a woman holding the larder and cellar keys, who ordered household operations, wielding strength through management and administration: no mean skill there. Once, a spinster span – preserving her independence through earning her own income, and spinsters challenged ‘men’s right’ to auction their wives in the marketplace. Loose women had agency and autonomy – walking free and independent, the property of no man.
Pink is a word of power. In the past, this was recognised. No reason for not doing so now.
‘Slut’ has ever meant ‘slattern’ – a dirty, sloppy, smelly and slovenly woman. Can that having no redeeming feature, applied against women by those having no capacity for recognising, or acknowledging, women’s strength, power, autonomy and agency – in general or in sexual terms – be ‘reclaimed’?
PinkStinks has supporters of all ages. Its ingenious inventors are sisters of 40, operating through social networks Facebook and Twitter. The Slut Marches did not comprise young or younger women alone. Nor did the divide fall on one or other side of generational lines.
PinkStinks’ concern is understandable. Yet will it advance young girls’ perception of themselves to be told their wish for pink is an indicator of a lack of identification with power and self-worth? Rather than put down pink – and girls with it, let it take its historical place as a colour of strength. Rather than putdowns in the playground, let’s encourage a culture affirming girls and women as indomitable.
The professional woman may be garbed in black, navy or red – whilst also recognising that pink is powerful.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s books include Growing Up Feminist – The New Generation of Australian Women, Growing Up Feminist Too – Raising Women, Raising Consciousness, Living Generously – Women Mentoring Women, and Breaking Through – Women, Work and Careers. She is presently researching the history of women’s bodies.
Observations upon the Proper Nursing of Children, Edinburgh Magazine, June 1761, pp. 304-5.
A child, when it comes into the world, is almost a round ball: it is the nurse’s part to assist nature in bringing it to a proper shape. The child should be laid (the first month) upon a thin matrass, rather longer than the child, which the nurse will keep upon her lap, that the child may always lie straight, and only sit up as the nurse slants the matrass. To set a child quite upright, before the end of the first month, hurts the eyes, by making the white part of the eye appear below the upper eye-lid. Afterwards the nurse will begin to set it up, and dance it by degrees. The child must be kept as dry as possible.
The cloathing should be very light, and not much longer than the child, that the legs may be got at with ease, in order to have them often rubbed in the day, with a warm hand or flannel; and in particular the inside of them.
Rubbing a child all over, takes off scurf, and makes the blood circulate. The breast should be rubbed with the hands, one, one, way, and the other, other way, night and morning at least.
The article-bones and inside of the knees should be rubbed twice-a-day; this will strengthen those parts, and make the child stretch its knees, and keep them flat; which is the foundation of an erect and graceful person.
A nurse ought to keep a child as little in her arms as possible, left the legs should be cramped, and the toes turned inwards. Let her always keep the child’s legs loose. The oftener its posture is changed the better.
The child should begin to walk upon a carpet or blanket, from three months old; the nurse must hold the child by the hips, that the movement in walking may come from that part, and not drag it by the arms.
Tossing a child about, and exercising it in the open air in fine weather, is of the greatest service. In cities, children are not to be kept in hot rooms, but to have as much air as possible.
Want of exercise is the cause of large heads, weak and knotted joints, a contracted breast; which occasions coughs and stuffed lings, an ill shapen person, and wadling gait, besides a numerous train of other ills.
The child’s flesh is to be kept perfectly clean, by constantly washing its limbs, and likewise its neck and ears; beginning with warm water, till by degrees it will not only bear, but like to be washed with cold.
Rising early in the morning is good for all children, provided they of themselves, which they generally do; but they are never to be waked out of their sleep, and as soon as possible to be brought to regular sleeps in the day.
When laid in bed or cradle, their legs are always to be laid straight.
By this method most children may be taught to walk alone, quite strong and upright, by the ninth or tenth month. At all times, till they are two or three years old, they must never be suffered to walk long enough at a time to be weary.
Girls might be trained to the proper management of children, if a premium were given in free-schools, work-houses, &c to those that brought up the finest child to one year old.
If the mother cannot suckle the child, get a wholesome chearful woman, with a young milk, who has been used to tend young children. After the first six months, small broths and innocent foods, of any kind, may do as well as living wholly upon milk.
A principal thing to be always attended to, is, to give young children constant exercise, and to keep them in a proper posture.
With regard to the child’s dress, in the day, let it be a shirt, a petticoat of fine flannel, two or three inches longer than the child’s feet; with a dimity top (commonly called a bodice-coat) to tie behind; over tha a surcingle made of fine buckram, two inches broad, covered over with satin, or fine ticken, with a ribbon fastened to it, to tie it on, which answers every purpose of stays, and has none of their inconveniences. Over this put a robe, or a slip and frock, or whatever you like best; provided it is fastened behind, and not much longer than the child’s feet, that their motions may be strictly observed.
After the first six months, the child may wear shoes and stockings, provided the shoes are large enough, and very broad at the toes, that the feet may not be cramped.
Two caps are to be put on the head, till the child had got most of its teeth.
No leading-strings of any kind should be used till the child can go quite alone, strong and upright.
The child’s dress for the night, may be a shirt, a blanket to tie on, and a thin gown to tie over the blanket.
Plentiful, competing and often contradictory advice for new mothers is not just a problem of the twenty-first century! Katie Barclay found this article whilst browsing some eighteenth-century newspapers.
In March 1739 a Buckingham clergyman’s wife named Jane Johnson wrote charmingly to a cousin about her one-year-old daughter, Barbara. She mocked the idea of scanning a child’s face for family resemblances. “She is . . . as much like herself as ever you saw a little girl in your life.” It is the kind of remark that any mother might make about her baby, but Jane Johnson, a run-of-the-mill, middling-sort married woman, was nevertheless extraordinary as a mother.
She eagerly followed the trend for parents to take an active role in the development of their children (as Richardson’s fictitious exemplar Pamela did in the continuation of her story, as well as innumerable actual women). But Johnson was not merely a follower; she was also a ground-breaker. Most of the writings she left behind her are typical of literate women at the time: notebooks, religious musings, and letters (which incorporate poems and stories). But her writings for her children include one unprecedented text (billed as the earliest known original fairy story in English) and one unprecedented set of texts, a “nursery library” or complete suite of teaching aids.
Johnson wrote out her “fairy-tale” for her daughter and eldest son, and bound it like a proper book, about five or six years after the little Barbara had looked like herself rather than like her relations. This is startlingly early, before the late-eighteenth-century wave of professional writers for children, at about the same time as John Newbery’s A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, 1744, which is generally presented as a first. Johnson called hers: “A very pretty story to tell Children when they are about five or six years of age”. Her manuscript is now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and it finally, in 2001, reached print as a Bodleian publication, reproduced in modern type and a facsimile of Johnson’s original.
It is markedly unlike such fairy-tales as Beauty and the Beast or Little Red Riding Hood. The child heroine and hero are named Bab and George, like the two eldest Johnson children, but they are, in the words of Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present, “improbably perfect creatures.” Magic enters the story when their virtues are rewarded with a journey “to the Castle of Pleasure and Delights . . . in a gold and diamond chariot drawn by six white lambs, with angels as outriders.” The real-life Bab and George are said to have taken “Vast Delight” in this story, and insisted on hearing it again and again.
Even more remarkable is Jane Johnson’s “homemade nursery library”, a teaching kit “containing mobiles, verses, ‘word chips’, sets of illustrated letter cards (by which letters can be gathered into syllables and syllables into words), and little hand-made books.” It amounts to 438 pieces. All these are now in the Lilly Library at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, which has reproduced the teaching-tool set on the university website. Historians of writing for children have rushed to praise this labour of love. Lissa Paul in The Children’s Book Business calls it “enticing” as well as “beautiful”. Evelyn Arizpe, Morag Styles, and Shirley Brice Heath celebrate Johnson’s perception of the fact that “learning to read requires frivolity, storytelling and diversion as well as diligence, rigour and repetition,” and provide generous illustrations from Johnson’s work in their Reading Lessons from the Eighteenth Century. Thus has scholarly interest in changing cultural practices brought this domestic woman out into public notice, no longer hidden from history.
All information here is from Orlando, an electronic resource published by Cambridge University Press, by subscription, at http://orlando.cambridge.org.
During the early-eighteenth century, the passing of wisdom from parents to children was an expected part of their relationship and vital to the proper socialisation of children. Throughout their lives, parents offered children advice on their behaviour, passing on their and society’s values and guiding them in their future conduct. While there were many events throughout childhood and adolescence that required special guidance from parents, marriage was of particular importance. For many people during the period, marriage marked the end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood and a well-managed household highlighted that the new couple had successfully joined adult society. An event of such significance triggered a flurry of letters from parents to children, containing advice on the selection of a partner, tips for a successful marriage and guidance on their future behaviour. Within the archives of elite Scottish families, there are a number of detailed letters giving marital advice from parents to children during the first half of the eighteenth century. These letters offer important insights into how parents prepared children for marriage and adulthood; on their expectations for married life, and the extent to which parents absorbed and promoted wider social discourses surrounding marriage.
The advice offered by these parents was remarkably similar in content and use of language. The counsel offered to Elizabeth Clerk and Margaret Robertson dealt with their expected behaviour within marriage, emphasising obedience to their husbands and God, frugality and good-housekeeping. Elizabeth was advised to follow the example of her mother: a ‘serious religious prudent careful virtuous woman & as great a lover of her husband as any in the place’. Similarly, Margaret was informed that ‘you have had your mothers example before you’ and advised to keep a ‘calm, cheaful & benevolent disposition’. The advice offered to sons dwelt on very similar subjects as it was not their behaviour that was given consideration when discussing marriage, but that of their future spouse. Anna, Lady Seafield advised her son to select from a good family and ‘I wold not hiv hir much abover owen eag [age], bot above all soberly and religiously educat’. Lady Down directed her son to ‘make a prudent choice of some young discreet wellborn virtuous woman’, and Francis Grant told his child that ‘a virtuous wife, not of superior quality, in thing or thought, keeps her husband easie, by a genteel & frugal economy’. He also noted that his son should marry someone who would be liked by his wife as ‘I can love or respect none, who does not so toward my wife, who so well deserves it; especially by the most tender motherly care towards my children’.
Children were advised that the ideal wife fitted the prescribed model of the religious, frugal, virtuous woman, but also resembled their mothers, who, it was argued, were worthy examples of this model. In doing so, parents directed their children to the social ideal for wifely behaviour, but also provided practical examples from their own lives, and, through this, promoted their own personal or familial interpretation of these values.
Words, such as virtuous, frugal, genteel and religious, occurred frequently within parental advice on wifely behaviour, and some authors gave extended discussions on the relationship between frugality and household economy, personal behaviour, and the meaning of well-born. Robertson of Strowan similarly informed Margaret that ‘riches and grandeur […] intoxicate most that propose them’ and reminded her ‘I always condemned gaudy & expensive ornaments in dress & furniture’. He continued that ‘love of neatness and order is not to be laid aside when you are married, on the contrary you must double it’ as without frugality ‘the husband is always the person most offended’. It was important that women knew to restrict their expenditure and for men to select a spouse with that knowledge, but this was an area where women should be independently competent. The successful functioning of the household and the appearance of a ‘frugal and genteel’ life was their responsibility. It was a wife’s surrender of the luxuries of ‘gaudy’ clothing and furniture that would ensure her household remained frugal.
It was not just an economic sacrifice that was asked of women. Fathers expected their daughters and daughter-in-laws to shape themselves to their spouses. Francis Grant informed his son that a man’s first consideration when selecting a spouse should be ‘his own peculiar complexion’ followed by ‘common rules of prudence’. He advised his son that his future wife should have ‘a temper which is not too often crabbed but, habitually taks delight to please you’ and ‘congrous qualities, [who] may become & fitted to the special circumstances of your station, relations, and estate’. Grant went on to instruct his son that his wife should have ‘a tender compassionate, sympathetic & easy disposition’ so that she would tolerate living with his sisters, ‘a sober affectionate inclination’ so she would be willing to look after him when he was old and infirm, and ‘a good store of moderate sense’ so that she would not mismanage her children. Grant emphasised that the desirable qualities in a wife were those that allowed her to be shaped around her husband and his needs. He explicitly noted ‘to have herself accommodate herself to your opinions and interests in all the fors & respects, you’ll desire her to be such as, probably, will be plyable; not stiff or opinionated on some singularities in or about herself or her friends’.
John Clerk similarly noted to his daughter that she should ‘encourage your husband as your head & lord to be king & priest & prophet in his house so far as is required in the gospel’ and that she should ‘take a great deal of pain to please & oblige all your neighbours bot especially your godfather his lady & bairns [her in-laws] & be over a good instrument of promoting love peace & concord amongst them […] with advice of your husband’. He expected his daughter to devote her life to her husband and his family. These men saw women as created for marriage and their husbands. In the case of Clerk and Robertson, this advice was not just aimed at an abstract ‘woman’, but to daughters who they clearly cared about. Their advice was to equip their children for the world and, through doing so, implied that women had agency, yet, at the same time, it reduced them to appendages in the service of their husbands.
Read more about these families in Katie Barclay’s book, Love, Intimacy and Power: Marriage and Patriarchy in Scotland, 1650-1850 (Manchester UP, 2011). She is spending the day enjoying some sun in her garden.