Canaday Center

Women's History Month 2010

For 30 years, the Ward M. Canaday Center has collected printed and manuscript materials documenting the social history of American women. The materials focus mainly on the period 1840-1920 and concern the nature of domestic life and the struggle of women for equality.  The American home during the Victorian period was a major concern because the home was seen as the repository of ideals and virtues as well as the training ground for future generations.  Often called the “cult of true womanhood,” society believed that a woman’s primary purpose was to produce and rear children to perpetuate society as it existed at the time. 

Toguide women in this endeavor, popular books and magazines served as manuals for succeeding in this important task.  The Canaday Center’s collection includes hundreds of titles which today provide a glimpse into the lives of women of the period, and also into the cultural values of the country.

Despite society’s overriding belief in the importance of domesticity, women were allowed outside the home to pursue some social causes such as improving the lives of the poor, sick, and uneducated.  Eventually, this led to women entering the political arena.  Women were the leaders of the temperance movement, which was seen as a way to protect women from the abuses caused by the alcohol addiction of men.  The ideals that fueled the temperance movement soon evolved into demands for the right to vote.  The Canaday Center’s collections also document the struggle of women to gain equal rights.

The examples below are taken from the Canaday Center's collections and arranged in roughly chronological order.  Click on any images to open a full size version in a new window.  Click on the titles to see the library catalog entry for the item.  

Catherine E. Beecher,  A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Ladies at Home and School.  New York:  Harper & Brothers, 1845.

           The cult of true womanhood that defined the ideal American woman in the 19th century was built on four characteristics:  piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity.  This concept arose with the new middle class built on a growing industrial economy.  Men worked outside the home while women toiled inside where they ran the household and raised the children.  To assist women in this important role, many authors wrote domestic manuals that instructed women how to behave properly, how to maintain a proper home, and how to raise proper children.  If a woman failed at this job, she not only failed her family, but she failed her country and society.

            Most of Catherine Beecher’s life was dedicated to women’s education. This book was one of the earliest and most influential of the household guides.  Beecher believed that most women were not trained for their “profession” of housewives; instead they suffered from “poor health, poor domestics, and a defective domestic education,” all of which this book purports to remedy.



Elizabeth Blackwell,  The Laws of Life, with Special Reference to the Physical Education of Girls.  New York:  A. O. Moore, 1858.

            In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell received the first medical diploma ever granted to a woman in the United States.  In 1853, she and her sister established the New York Infirmary for Women and Children.  Blackwell urged women to be active, and believed healthy and strong bodies were essential.  Blackwell exhorted women not to sacrifice themselves to the false beauties of fashion and rather to seek health, happiness, and usefulness.



Susan B. Anthony, letter to Albert E. Macomber of Toledo, August 8, 1867.

            This letter by the leader of the woman’s suffrage movement was written to Albert Macomber requesting his help in traveling to Kansas to work on behalf of woman’s suffrage, and for financial contributions to the cause.  “Can you not, sir, among the good friends of Toledo, Mr. Mott, Mrs. Anna Barnes, the Rev. Stephen Camp and others, make up a good purse to send to us to help us in the printing of our documents?” Anthony pleads.



Horace Bushnell, Women’s Suffrage: The Reform Against Nature.  New York: Charles Scribner and Company, 1870.

            As the woman’s suffrage movement gained momentum, those who opposed women having the right to vote found an outlet for their arguments.  Like many similar books, Bushnell argued that woman’s suffrage was simply going against nature.  But according to Bushnell, women should revel in their secondary status.  “Their subject nature, which is called their subject condition, has here been shown, I think, to contain all the grandest possibilities of work and power and character that could or can be given them.  It is in fact the prime endowment of their womanhood itself,” Bushnell concludes.



Rev. J. D.  Fulton, Woman as God Made Her:  The True Woman.  Boston:  Lee and Shepard, 1869.

            To support the beliefs of the cult of true womanhood, authors often turned to religion to make their point.  This book includes a chapter warning of what would happen if women were given the right to vote.  “It is patent to every one to see that this attempt to secure the ballot for woman is a revolt against the position and sphere assigned to woman by God himself.  It is a revolt against the holiest duties enjoined upon woman.  It is an attempt to reorganize society upon a new basis; to change the relations between men and women; to secure the millennium by a vote, and by majorities, to do away with the rule of God,” Fulton argues.



George H. Naphreys, The Physical Life of Woman:  Advice to the Maiden, Wife, and Mother.  Philadelphia:  George Maclean, 1871.

            Since women rarely had access to health care in the 19th century, the manuals produced to instruct them in life also included instructions on health.  Of particular concern to women were topics related to obstetrics and gynecology, which were often too embarrassing to discuss with male physicians.  This book was typical of the thousands of home health care guides produced in the 19th century.  Somewhat unusual for the time was its promotion of vaccinations against small pox.



Catherine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe.  The New Housekeeper’s Manual.  New York:  J.B. Ford and Company, 1873.

            Building on the success of her earlier book A Treatise on Domestic Economy, Catherine Beecher teamed up with her sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe (the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) to produce this domestic manual.  The book was dedicated to “The Women of America, in whose hands the real destines of the Republic, as moulded by the early training and preserved amid the maturer influences of home, this volume is affectionately inscribed.”  In addition to the standard advice, it included recipes.  It even gave instructions on creating “earth closets,” a devise that was half indoor privy, half composter. 



Frances E. Willard, Woman and Temperance, or The Work and Workers of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.  Hartford, CT:  James Betts & Co., 1883.

            Frances Willard was active in two political movements:  woman’s suffrage and temperance.  For her, the philosophy of the two movements was intertwined, based upon the idea of “Home Protection.”  The object of “Home Protection” was “to secure for all women above the age of twenty-one years the ballot as one means for protection of their homes from the devastation caused by the legalized traffic in strong drink.”  Her work was instrumental in passing two constitutional amendments:  the 18th (which instituted prohibition) and the 19th (which gave women the right to vote.)



W. H. Davenport Adams,  Woman’s Work and Worth.  Chicago:  Rand, McNally & Company, 1884.

            Women’s domestic manuals were not only written by women, but many were written by men.  Adams’s work addresses a woman’s character, duties, rights, position in life, scope of influence, responsibilities as a Christian woman, and the opportunities that existed that were unique to her because she was a woman.



Charlotte Perkins Gillman,  “The Yellow Wallpaper.”  New England Magazine, January 1892.

            How women felt trying to live up to the unrealistic expectations of 19th century society as described in the many domestic manuals of the day was rarely spoken about in public.  This short story—its first appearance as shown here in the New England Magazine—was different.  It described in painful detail the result of the “rest cure,” a theory put forth by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell in the late 19th century for women who were experiencing depression.  Gillman describes a new mother suffering from depression who is instructed to abandon her intellectual life and avoid stimulation. This does little to “cure” her, but instead sinks her deeper into depression.  Alone in the yellow-wallpapered nursery of her rented house, she descends into madness.  This original periodical appearance edition of the story—which brought Gillman immediate attention as an author—is rare.



Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage.  History of Woman Suffrage.  New York:  Fowler & Wells, 1881-1922.

            This work, which evolved into six volumes before its completion, described the efforts to win women the right to vote by those who were deeply involved in the movement.  This first edition was presented to the owner, Mrs. Harry Elbridge King, while still in her teens by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.



Toledo Woman’s Suffrage Association Records, 1903-1927.

            The Toledo’s Woman’s Suffrage Association was founded in 1869, and was one of the earliest chapters of the national organization.  Sarah Bissell, one of its founders, was as associate of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  The organization was active until 1915 when it merged with the Political Equality League.  The last meeting of the group (as the minutes here indicate) was held at the home of Pauline Steinem, grandmother of feminist Gloria Steinem. 



Maud C. Cooke, Social Etiquette, or Manners and Customs of Polite Society.  Philadelphia:  Keeler & Kirkpatrick, 1896.

            Despite some gains by women toward equality, guides to their proper behavior continued to be best sellers far into the 20th century.  This book sought to instruct women who were moving up the social and economic ladder on behaviors that would show them to be women of culture and proper upbringing.



John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women.  London:  Langmans, Green, and Co., 1906.

            Some of the strongest advocates for women’s rights were men.  John Stuart Mill, a British progressive, was one of the first and most vocal of these men.  Mill saw the denial of equal rights to women as an evil that had a negative impact not just on the women, but on society as a whole.



Jane Addams,  Twenty Years at Hull-House.  New York: The MacMillan Company, 1910.  Signed by the author.

            Jane Addams opened the first settlement house in the United States in Chicago in 1889.  Inspired by similar organizations she saw while touring England, Hull-House offered education, vocational training, and cultural activities for new immigrants coming to America.  Addams was also a feminist and advocate for woman’s suffrage.  She was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1931 for her work on behalf of the less fortunate. 


Scott Nearing and Nellie Nearing.  Woman and Social Progress: A Discussion of the Biologic, Domestic, Industrial, and Social Possibilities of Women.  New York:  MacMillan Company, 1912.

            Nearing was one of the proponents of the Progressive Movement, a political movement that sought to improve the lives of those exploited by the industrial revolution.  Nearing wrote on many subjects, including equal rights for women.  In 1915, three years after publishing this work, he was appointed dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Toledo.  While dean, Nearing called for an overturn of the way wages were paid to labor, for equal opportunity for all, and against the accumulation of wealth.  At UT, he established courses on labor and women’s issues.  He soon got into trouble with Toledo’s conservative business community, especially after he spoke out in opposition to the U.S. entering World War I.  In 1917, Nearing was removed as dean, and he never held another academic position.  He and his wife moved to Maine, where they lived off the land and continued to write radical literature.  He died in 1983 the age of 99.



Margaret Sanger,  Motherhood in Bondage.  New York:  Brentano’s Publishers, 1928.

            Margaret Sanger believed that the lack of control women had over the number of children then bore led to their diminished status in society.  She was especially appalled by the conditions of the poor who lived in slums.  In this book she interviewed women who were dealing with too many children and too little money.  “I have seven children and am one month on the way again would like for you to tell me what to do.  It makes me not have my right mind and I would rather die than to have this one,” one woman confessed to Sanger.  Sanger advocated for the right of women to have access to birth control as a way to not only improve their own lives, but those of their children. 



Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.  New York:  Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983.

            Steinem was one of the leaders of the feminist movement.  Her magazine, Ms., served as an outlet for many feminist authors. Born in Toledo, Steinem’s grandmother had been active in the Toledo Woman’s Suffrage Association.  Her mother and father met while students at the University of Toledo, and her father founded UT’s student newspaper.  This book contains an essay in honor of her mother entitled “Ruth’s Song (Because She Could Not Sing.”)  It describes her early life in Toledo and her mother’s struggle with mental illness.


Last Updated: 7/1/19