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Advice Books, Manuals and Journals for Women

Parts 1-4: Sources from the Bodleian Library, Oxford

Publisher's Note

Adam Matthew Publications are proud to make available this new series in their widely acclaimed microfilm collections for Women’s Studies. While Women Advising Women makes available a rich selection of prescriptive literature and journals aimed at women in the period from 1577 to 1837, this companion project from the Bodleian Library, Oxford offers comparative materials from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, from 1837 to 1910.

The examination of such prescriptive literature is vital to our understanding of changes and developments in femininity and masculinity, the compartmentalisation of many aspects of nineteenth-century life, and the delineation of public and private spheres.

To aid scholars and students the two hundred plus titles in Parts 1 and 2 have been divided into subject groupings covering:

  • Cookery and Domestic Life
  • Education and Etiquette
  • Entertainment
  • Fashion, Society and Beauty
  • Language and Literature
  • Letter Writing
  • Marriage & Divorce
  • Miscellanea
  • Mothers & Daughters
  • Religion & Morality
  • Travel
  • Women & the Law
  • Women & Work
  • Women’s Health
  • Women’s Right & Status

Parts 3 and 4 complete this project and contain periodicals and journals (arranged alphabetically by title) covering all manner of subjects.

Well-known works have been excluded and the majority of the items are very rare. A sample of the titles will give an idea of the appeal and scope of the collection. Among the titles featured are:

  • Every woman’s encyclopaedia (1910-1912)
  • The Mothers’ thorough resource-book (1860)
  • A Wife’s home duties: containing practical hints to inexperienced housekeepers (1859)
  • Advice to young mothers for the physical education of children (1835)
  • Girlhood and Wifehood, Practical counsel and advice (1896)
  • The etiquette of good society (1893)
  • Domestic economy for the use of schools (1878)
  • The Matron: her duties and responsibilities (1907)
  • Every woman her own doctor (1903)
  • Every girl’s book of sport, occupation & pastime (1897)
  • The Sportswoman (1908)
  • Every Girl’s Annual & Every Girl’s Magazine (1878-88)
  • The letter writer for lovers (n.d.)
  • The Marriage Almanack; and Mothers Manual (1858)
  • Tracts of the Marriage Law Defence Union and the Ladies’ Sanitary Association
  • The Ladies guide to life assurance (1854)
  • London Female Mission (1838)
  • Female Servants Union (1892)
  • Ladies at Work … (1893)
  • Every women’s book; or Female’s physician (1839)

In the items on Cookery and Domestic Life there is information on recipes and entertaining, not only for the upper classes of society but also practical, cheap recipes for the housewife working to a budget. Illustrations are profuse and wonderfully detailed. The duties of domestic life are covered in detail and include children’s plays set to music intended to teach girls how to go about the household chores which were to be expected of them.

Etiquette covers among other subjects, details on dress, dinner parties, balls, weddings, courtship, friendship, mourning, and receiving company:

“A morning call should not be made before 3.00 pm nor after 5.00 pm”.

Rules are given on ways to converse and language to be used:

“Lunch is vulgar; luncheon is the right word; and pray do not talk of having “lunched” with anyone. Say ‘I had luncheon’.”

Education includes a wide range of material, instructions for the nursery governess, books for teaching both in schools and at home and the fascinating Journal of the Women’s Education Union.
Entertainment covers a surprisingly wide range of activities such as gardening, card games, billiards, chess, shopping and sports as varied as archery, golf, tiger and kangaroo hunting. Ideas are expounded on behaviour befitting your ladies:

“I would have the girls avoid the grotesque behaviour of the inconsistent creature, who affects a fine contempt for man, and yet attires herself in close imitation of his garments, crops her hair close, and rides a bicycle in so called ‘rational’ dress.”

Advice on make-up, hair styles, clothes and exercise is given in the items in Fashion, Society and Beauty. This section contains some interesting advertisements, ranging from treatments for sunburn to electrolysis.

Language and Literature and Letter Writing includes stories of adventure and travel for girls and how to write letters of every description including love letters and valentines.

How women should behave in a marriage, how to deal with widowhood and thoughts on divorce and remarriage are ideas covered in the section on Marriage and Divorce.

In Miscellanea Every woman’s encyclopaedia (1910-1912), a fascinating journal published fortnightly covers a multitude of themes such as the home, children, religion, marriage, recreation, dress, the garden, beauty, pets, law, the arts, medicine, etc and is lavishly illustrated and full of advertisements. Periodicals with long runs will be included in Parts 3 and 4 of this series.
In Mothers and Daughters, much advice is given by mothers to their daughters on many topics including how to improve their conduct towards family, servants, on ideas for employment, how to look after their health, how to be a good wife, and also how to deal with the possibility of widowhood. There is much on the care of children; childbirth, infants’ illnesses, education and religious instruction.

Religion and Morality – these two themes are often association with the Victorian era and there is much in this section which shows what strong influence these subjects had on Victorian life. A pamphlet extols the virtues of women preachers and pamphlets of The Temperance Association denounce alcohol and explain its adverse effects on women’s health.

Travel is a theme touched upon in many of the items in the different subject areas.
Not only the stereotyped types of work for Victorian women are described in the section on Women & Work, such as working with the poor, women missionaries both working abroad and with ‘fallen’ women in England, but also, what could be described as ‘modern’ types of work for women such as journalism, ‘the stage’, medicine and teaching.

In Women’s Health every type of ailment is described with suggested remedies and there is much discussion on menstruation, puberty, pregnancy, abortion and the menopause.
Women’s Rights and Status includes much on the changing role of women and their rights within the house and society. Included are papers on the subject of suffrage for example one refuting Mrs Fawcett’s ideas on female suffrage.

The term ‘Victorian Values’ has taken on many connotations. This project will enable scholars to probe the true nature of Victorian Values; to understand the roles that men and women were expected to play and the complicity or opposition of women to these roles.
Together with Women Advising Women, this project will make possible a thorough survey of prescriptive literature over five centuries and will allow a clearer view of the changing role of women.



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