SO SWEET TO LABOR: Rural Women in America 1865-1895 by Norton Juster

SO SWEET TO LABOR: Rural Women in America 1865-1895

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Juster thinks rural (read New England) women in late 19th-century America drew a thankless lot, and he exemplifies that theory with excerpts from popular magazines of the day--notably the male-edited Household--which circulated far more widely than any feminist papers. Initial excerpts (on ""Image & Identity"") illustrate the rural woman's aims--from getting a satisfactory husband to cultivating a patient, submissive spirit. The second section (""Burdens, Costs, Responses') chronicles the ""harsher reality"" of women's lives: the constant struggle (and failure) to smile sweetly in the face of too many chores, too many children, and a husband who would track in dirt. Efficiency is the answer, and making do (drain the dishes, don't wipe them; convert papa's old coat sleeves into toddlers' leggings); but the overly efficient housewife is a husband's bane. To women walking that fine line, the popular advice-laden magazines were both a help and a scourge, though how much they ""mirrored"" the real lives of their women readers--as Juster flatly claims--is an open question in women's history. Certainly the garden-variety ""harsh realities"" are tame stuff, for this is the literature of those competent, resigned ladies who begin with the premise that ""a really good housekeeper is almost always unhappy."" Still, it's an interesting if unsurprising collection--with a terrific recipe for cole slaw.

Pub Date: Aug. 10th, 1979
Publisher: Viking