Monday, July 16, 2012

The Original Martha Stewart

To graduate with my Bachelor of Arts in Literature I had to write a senior thesis. I considered the many works of great literature that I had read over my four years at school. But I knew that I wanted to write something different, to touch on something or someone that had been overlooked. So I skipped over Byron, Shakespeare, and Bronte...even though I love them...and settled upon a writer that had been completely ignored by the canon. Sarah Josepha Hale. I used her writings to argue that the woman's sphere was an evil institution of the past. I believe that domesticity and womanhood should be celebrated, not shunned. I feel that modernity only gives us one side of the story...the extreme feminist side. And it's not an accurate picture. 

I fell in love with Hale as I poured over her works...mostly cookbooks and copies of 'Godey's Ladies Magazine'. I read biographeies of her and the few precious words she had written about herself. She had always worked hard to be educated and well read. She was widowed young with four sweet children to raise. First a milliner, then a writer, and finally a lady editor, she labored tirelessly to provide for her children. She instructed women across the country on how to do everything from prepare a chicken to treat sicknesses to wash windows. It was Hale who rallied the ladies to write letters to Abraham Lincoln insisting that Thankgiving be made a national holiday. And it was Mrs. Hale who penned a song that every child knows, 'Mary Had a Little Lamb'. The magazine she edited for several decades was the predecessor for today's magazines like 'Lady's Home Journal' and 'Better Homes and Gardens'. She published short stories, works of music, instructions for crafts. She even befriended a young Edgar Alan Poe and helped him get published. It's for these reasons that those that do know of her consider her the original Martha Stewart. Although, Martha doesn't hold a candle to Sarah.

I fear that if I were to start in on everything she stands for that I would basically be re-writing my thesis which is over 20 pages. Instead, I've pulled a handful of my favorite quotes. Someday, when I have more time, I may write more about my dear friend Sarah Josepha Hale but for now, I'll let her words speak for her.

"I place woman’s office above man’s because moral influence is superior to mechanical invention…woman’s mission is to mould mind, and form character; while man’s work deals with material things.  I do not agree with those who would place women in competition with men in their industrial pursuits. Such a course would not only deteriorate the feminine nature, but fatally injure society, because giving material things a still greater preponderance over moral goodness than is now to be found in Christendom”

“…There were care and preparation in the forming of woman which were not bestowed on man. Why was this recorded, if not to teach us that the wife was of finer mould, and destined to the more spiritual uses,--the heart of humanity, as her husband was the head?...Does it not mark the better nature of woman, that, after the fall even, when she was placed under the control of her husband, she yet held their immortal destiny in her keeping?...not a ray of hope can be found in the destiny of the man, save through the hope given to the woman. Thus they stood together, when, after their sorrowful ‘fall’, they were drive forth from Eden, and sent—Adam to till the ground, ‘cursed for his sake’, or sin; Eve to become the ‘mother of all living’” 

“In the history of creation, it seems that Adam was not perfect till Eve was made to be with him.  All the words of the Creator were pronounced ‘good’ til we come to the man: then the word of God was—‘it is not good that the man should be alone: I will make a help-meet for him.’…The happiness and glory of Eden were then perfected”

“Is it a disparagement to the rose that it differs from the acorn? Would the peach choose to be identical with the potato? Nature gives the kindly ‘fruits of the earth’ their uses and virtues, all different and all good. With mankind it is similar. Men and women differ as essentially in their minds of modes of thoughts as in their forms”

 “And even now, happy homes may be made, it the husband and wife would lovingly work for this sweet enjoyment.  Why should all the responsibilities be laid on woman? Would it not be well to give men a lesson or two on their home-duties? Why should not the husband be advised to bring home ‘smiles and sunshine’ for the wife, which she is admonished always to ‘have only smiles and sunshine for the husband when he comes home wearied with his day’s labor’?”
“A young bride, first making her own home, should think of this, and remember that much of her future enjoyment may depend upon the halo her hand shall throw around the domestic sanctuary” 

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