Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.
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Two issues back, I presented the metaphysical and ideological foundations of
Catharine Beecher's Domestic Economy, or
FOR THE USE OF
YOUNG LADIES AT HOME
BY MISS CATHERINE E. BEECHER.
As set forth in chapter 1, it concluded with "It is the building of a glorious temple, whose base shall be coextensive with the bounds of the earth, whose summit shall pierce the skies, whose splendor shall beam on all lands; and those who hew the lowliest stone, as much as those who carve the highest capital, will be equally honored, when its topstone shall be laid, with new rejoicings of the morning stars, and shoutings of the sons of God."
In the following, taken from the body of the work, she describes how to keep a baby warm, and how warm to keep it, with a great deal of explanation based on the science of the day. Likewise, and with similar scientific accompaniment, she warns against wearing wool next to the skin, and most vociferously against tight clothing for women, for very tight corsets were the fashion.
The rule of safety, in regard to the tightness of dress, is this. Every person should be dressed so loosely, that, when sitting in the posture used in sewing, reading, or study, THE LUNGS can be as fully and as easily inflated, as they are without clothing.
She also scientifically explained the need for cleanliness:
... it is found, that the closing of the pores of the skin with other substances, tends to a similar result on the internal organs. In this situation, the skin is unable perfectly to perform its functions, and either the blood remains to a certain extent unpurified, or else the internal organs have an unnatural duty to perform. Either of these results tends to produce disease, and the gradual decay of the vital powers.
The idea that the body could be devoured, or partially devoured, or poisoned or made to malfunction by organisms too small to see had not yet a part of the medical theorist's toolkit, of course.
In the chapter "On the Construction of Houses", she presents numerous plans for simple frame houses, and advise on where to plant shade trees. She even presents a design for indoor plumbing usable even in the wilderness, provided a well is near the house. In presenting a careful privy design, she concludes with "Every woman should use her influence to secure all these conveniences; even if it involves the sacrifice of the piazza, or 'the best parlor.'"
Next is presented part of a chapter "On Whitening, Cleansing, and Dying", which describes what substances can be used to dye cloth in various shades. Wheat bran, turmeric, various blossoms and types of bark, and "iron nails boiled in vinegar" are among the substances used.
The final selection describes how to make a "cheap couch", with a diagram to be shown to any "common carpenter" (or husband, I would guess), and directions on how to complete the work, using straw and/or hair for stuffing.
IT appears, by calculations made from bills of mortality, that one quarter
of the human race perishes in infancy. This is a fact not in accordance
with the analogy of Nature. No such mortality prevails among the young
of animals; it does not appear to be the design of the Creator; and it
must be owing to causes which can be removed. Medical men agree in the
opinion, that a great portion of this mortality, is owing to mismanagement,
in reference to fresh air. food, and clothing.
At birth, the circulation is chiefly in the vessels of the skin; for
the liver and stomach, being feeble in action, demand less blood, and it
resorts to the surface. If, therefore, an infant be exposed to cold, the
blood is driven inward, by the contracting of the bloodvessels in
the skin; and, the internal organs being thus overstimulated, bowel complaints,
croup, convulsions, or some other evil, ensues. This shows the sad mistake
of parents, who plunge infants in cold water to strengthen their constitution;
and teaches, that infants should be washed in warm water, and in a warm
room. Some have constitutions strong enough to bear mismanagement in these
respects; but many fail in consequence of it.
Hence we see the importance of dressing infants warmly, and protecting
them from exposure to a cold temperature. It is for this purpose, that
mothers, now, very generally, cover the arms and necks of infants, especially
in Winter. Fathers and mothers, if they were obliged to go with bare arms
and necks, even in moderate weather, would often shiver with cold; and
yet they have a power of constitution which would subject them to far less
hazard and discomfort, than a delicate infant must experience from a similar
exposure. This mode of dressing infants, with bare necks and arms, has
arisen from the common impression, that they have a power of resisting
cold superior to older persons. This is a mistake; for the experiments
of medical men have established the fact, that the power of producing heat
is least in the period of infancy.
Extensive investigations have been made in France, in reference to this
point. It is there required, in some districts, that every infant, at birth,
be carried to the office of the maire, [mayor,] to be registered.
It is found in these districts, that the deaths of newlyborn infants,
are much more numerous in the cold, than in the warm, months; and that
a much greater proportion of such deaths occurs among those who reside
at a distance from the office of the maire, than among those in
its vicinity. This proves, that exposure to cold has much to do with the
continuance of infant life.
But it is as dangerous to go to the other extreme, and keep the body
too warm. The skin, when kept at too high a temperature, is relaxed and
weakened by too profuse perspiration, and becomes more sensitive, and more
readily affected by every change of temperature. This increases the liabilities
to sudden colds; and it frequently happens, that the children, who are
most carefully guarded from cold, are the ones most liable to take sudden
and dangerous chills. The reason is, that, by the too great accumulation
of clothing, the skin is too much excited, and the blood is withdrawn from
the internal organs, thus weakening them, while the skin itself is debilitated
by the same process.
The rule of safety, is, so to cover the body, as to keep it entirely
warm, but not so as to induce perspiration in any part. The perspiration
induced by exercise is healthful, because it increases the appetite; but
the perspiration produced by excess of clothing is debilitating. This shows
the importance of adjusting beds and their covering to the season. Featherbeds
are unhealthful in warm weather, because they induce perspiration; and
in all cases, those, who have the care of children, should proportion their
covering by night to the season of the year. Infants and children should
never be so clothed, as either to feel chilly, or to induce perspiration.
The greatest trouble, in this respect, to those who have the care of
children, is owing to their throwing off their covering in the night. The
best guard, against such exposures, is a nightgown, of the warmest and
thickest material, made like pantaloons at the lower part, and the legs
long, so that they can be tied over the feet.
This makes less covering needful, and saves the child from excessive
cold when it is thrown off.
The clothing ought always to be proportioned to the constitution and
habits. A person of strong constitution, who takes much exercise, needs
less clothing than one of delicate and sedentary habits. According to this
rule, women need much thicker and warmer clothing, when they go out, than
men. But how different are our customs, from what sound wisdom dictates!
Women go out with thin stockings, thin shoes, and open necks, when men
are protected by thick woolen hose and boots, and their whole body encased
in many folds of flannel and broadcloth.
On the subject of wearing woolens next the skin, the medical profession
are changing their opinions. Heretofore it has been considered important
for young children and invalids to wear flannel next the skin, but now
it is believed that the constant friction of the flannel tends to debilitate
the skin, and that the good to be secured by wearing flannel, without
this evil, is gained by having it over an undergarment of cotton.
Wearing flannel next the skin, through the night, is especially injurious,
and therefore the woolen nightgowns of young children and invalids
should never be worn next the skin. It has often been found that persons
who have suffered from rheumatism, and on this account have worn flannel
next the skin, have been relieved from this disease by simply leaving off
The best protection against sudden changes, and against the malaria
of disease or bad climate, is to strengthen the skin by frequent
ablutions of the whole body in cold water. All persons, by a gradual process,
can accustom themselves to this, without any danger, and with immense benefits.
Cold bathing should always be followed by exercise, continued until a glow
is produced. It never should be taken till three hours after eating. Infants
should gradually be accustomed to cold water after the second month, and
all young children should be washed all over in cold water every day.
But the practice,
by which females probably suffer most, is, the use of tight dresses.
Much has been said against the use of corsets by ladies. But these
may be worn with perfect safety, and be left off, and still injury such
as they often produce, be equally felt. It is the constriction of
dress, that is to be feared, and not any particular article that produces
it. A frock, or a belt, may be so tight, as to be even worse than a corset,
which would more equally divide the compression.
So long as it is the fashion to admire, as models of elegance, the wasplike
figures which are presented at the rooms of mantuamakers and milliners,
there will be hundreds of foolish women, who will risk their lives and
health to secure some resemblance to these deformities of the human frame.
But it is believed, that all sensible women, when they fairly understand
the evils which result from tight dressing, and learn the real model
of taste and beauty for a perfect female form, will never risk their own
health, or the health of their daughters, in efforts to secure one which
is as much at variance with good taste, as it is with good health.
Such female figures as our printshops present, are made, not by
the hand of the Author of all grace and beauty, but by the murderous contrivances
of the corsetshop; and the more a woman learns the true rules of grace
and beauty for the female form, the more her taste will revolt from such
ridiculous distortions. The folly of the Chinese belle, who totters on
two useless deformities, is nothing, compared to that of the American belle,
who impedes all the internal organs in the discharge of their functions,
that she may have a slender waist.
It was shown, in the article on the bones and muscles, that exercise
was indispensable to their growth and strength. If any muscles are left
unemployed, they diminish in size and strength. The girding of tight dresses
operates thus on the muscles of the body. If an article, like corsets,
is made to hold up the body, then those muscles, which are designed for
this purpose, are released from duty, and grow weak; so that, after this
has been continued for some time, leaving off the unnatural support produces
a feeling of weakness. Thus a person will complain of feeling so weak and
unsupported, without corsets, as to be uncomfortable. This is entirely
owing to the disuse of those muscles, which corsets throw out of employ.
Another effect of tight dress, is, to stop or impede the office of the
lungs. Unless the chest can expand, fully, and with perfect ease, a portion
of the lungs is not filled with air, and thus the full purification of
the blood is prevented. This movement of the lungs, when they are fully
inflated, increases the peristaltic movement of the stomach and bowels,
and promotes digestion; any constriction of the waist tends to impede this
important operation, and indigestion, with all its attendant evils, is
often the result.
The rule of safety, in regard to the tightness of dress, is this. Every
person should be dressed so loosely, that, when sitting in the posture
used in sewing, reading, or study, THE LUNGS can be as fully and
as easily inflated, as they are without clothing. Many a woman thinks
she dresses loosely, because, when she stands up, her clothing does not
confine her chest. This is not a fair test. It is in the position most
used when engaged in common employments, that we are to judge of the constriction
of dress. Let every woman, then, bear in mind, that, just so long as her
dress and position oppose any resistance to the motion of her chest, in
just such proportion her blood is unpurified, and her vital organs are
The English ladies set our countrywomen a good example, in accommodating
their dress to times and seasons. The richest and noblest among them wear
warm cotton hose and thick shoes, when they walk for exercise; and would
deem it vulgar to appear, as many of our ladies do, with thin hose and
shoes, in damp or cold weather. Any mode of dress, not suited to the employment,
the age, the season, or the means of the wearer, is in bad taste.
THE importance of cleanliness, in person and dress, can never be fully
realized, by persons who are ignorant of the construction of the skin,
and of the influence which its treatment has on the health of the body.
Persons deficient in such knowledge, frequently sneer at what they deem
the foolish and fidgety particularity of others, whose frequent ablutions
and changes of clothing, exceed their own measure of importance.
The popular maxim, that "dirt is healthy," has probably arisen
from the fact, that playing in the open air is very beneficial to the health
of children, who thus get dirt on their persons and clothes. But it is
the fresh air and exercise, and not the dirt, which promotes the health.
In a previous article, it was shown, that the lungs, bowels, kidneys,
and skin, were the organs employed in throwing off those waste and noxious
parts of the food not employed in nourishing the body. Of this, the skin
has the largest duty to perform; throwing off, at least, twenty ounces
every twentyfour hours, by means of insensible perspiration. When
exercise sets the blood in quicker motion, it ministers its supplies faster,
and there is consequently a greater residuum to be thrown off by the skin;
and then the perspiration becomes so abundant as to be perceptible. In
this state, if a sudden chill take place, the bloodvessels of the
skin contract, the blood is driven from the surface, and the internal organs
are taxed with a double duty. If the constitution be a strong one, these
organs march on and perform the labor exacted. But if any of these organs
be debilitated, the weakest one generally gives way, and some disease ensues.
One of the most frequent illustrations of this reciprocated action,
is afforded by a convivial meeting in cold weather. The heat of the room,
the food, and the excitement, quicken the circulation, and perspiration
is evolved. When the company passes into the cold air, a sudden revulsion
takes place. The increased circulation continues, for some time after;
but the skin being cooled, the blood retreats, and the internal organs
are obliged to perform the duties of the skin as well as their own. Then,
in case the lungs are the weakest organ, the mucous secretion becomes excessive;
so that it would fill up the cells, and stop the breathing, were it not
for the spasmodic effort called coughing, by which this substance is thrown
out. In case the nerves are the weakest part of the system, such an exposure
would result in pains in the head or teeth, or in some other nervous ailment.
If the muscles be the weakest part, rheumatic affections will ensue; and
if the bowels or kidneys be weakest, some disorder in their functions will
But it is found, that the closing of the pores of the skin with other
substances, tends to a similar result on the internal organs. In this situation,
the skin is unable perfectly to perform its functions, and either the blood
remains to a certain extent unpurified, or else the internal organs have
an unnatural duty to perform. Either of these results tends to produce
disease, and the gradual decay of the vital powers.
Moreover, it has been shown, that the skin has the power of absorbing
into the blood particles retained on its surface. In consequence of these
peculiarities, the skin of the whole body needs to be washed, every day.
This process removes from the pores the matter exhaled from the blood,
and also that collected from the atmosphere and other bodies. If this process
be not often performed, the pores of the skin fill up with the redundant
matter expelled, and being pressed, by the clothing, to the surface of
the body, the skin is both interrupted in its exhaling process, and its
absorbents take back into the system portions of the noxious matter. Thus
ON THE CONSTRUCTION OF HOUSES
In arranging yards and grounds, the house should be set back, as in
the drawing of Wadsworth's cottage; and, instead of planting shadetrees
in straight lines, or scattering them about, as single trees, they should
be arranged in clusters, with large openings for turf, flowers, and shrubbery,
which never flourish well under the shade and dropping of trees. This also
secures spots of dark and cool shade, even when trees are young.
In arranging shadetrees tastefully around such a place, a large
cluster might be placed on each side of the gate; another on the circular
grassplot, at the side of the house; another at a front corner; and
another at a back corner. Shrubbery, along the walks, and on the circular
plot, in front, and flowers close to the house, would look well. The barn,
also, should have clusters of trees near it; and occasional single trees,
on the lawn, would give the graceful ease and variety seen in nature.
Figure 34, represents the accommodations for securing water with the
least labor. It is designed for a well or cistern under ground. The reservoir,
R,, may be a half hogshead, or something larger, which may be filled once
a day, from the pump, by a man. or boy.
The conductor, C, should be a lead pipe, which, in stead of going over
the boiler, should be bent along behind it. From S, a branch sets off,
which conducts the cold water to the sink in the kitchen, where it discharges
with a cock. H,, is a conductor from the lower part of the boiler, made
of copper, or some metal not melted by great heat; and at Y, a cock is
placed, to draw off hot water. Then the conductor passes to the bathingtub,
where is another cock. At Z, the water is let off from the bathingtub.
By this arrangement, great quantities of hot and cold water can be used,
with no labor in carrying, and with very little labor in raising it.
In case a cistern is built above ground, it can be placed as the reservoir
is, and then all the labor of pumping is saved.
The privy... should have two compartments, as indispensable to healthful
habits in a family. A window should be placed at 0, and a door, with springs
or a weight to keep it shut, should be at V. Keeping the window open, and
the door shut, will prevent any disagreeable effects in the house. At G,
is the kitchen, and at F, the sink, which should have a conductor and cock
from the reservoir. H, is the place for wood, where it should in Summer
be stored for Winter. A bin, for coal, and also a brick receiver, for ashes,
should be in this part. Every woman should use her influence to secure
all these conveniences; even if it involves the sacrifice of the piazza,
or "the best parlor."
ON WHITENING, CLEANSING, AND DYEING.
Precautions and Preparations.
All the articles must be entirely free from grease or oil, and also,
in most cases, from soapsuds. Make light dyes in brass, and dark ones in
iron, vessels. Always wet the articles, in fair water, before dyeing. Always
carefully strain the dye. If the color be too light, dry and then dip the
article again. Stir the article well in the dye, lifting it up often. Remove
any previous color, by boiling in suds, or, what is better, in the soda
mixture used for washing.
Pink Dye. Buy a saucer of carmine, at an apothecary's. With it,
you will find directions for its use. This is cheap, easy to use, and beautiful.
Balm blossoms and Bergamot blossoms, with a little cream
of tartar in the water, make a pretty pink.
Red Dye. Take half a pound of wheat bran, three ounces of powdered
alum, and two gallons of soft water. Boil these in a brass vessel, and
add an ounce of cream of tartar, and an ounce of cochineal, tied up together
in a bag. Boil the mixture for fifteen minutes, then strain it, and dip
the articles. Brazil wood, set with alum, makes another red dye.
Yellow Dye. Fustic, turmeric powder, saffron, barberrybush,
peachleaves, or marigold flowers, make a yellow dye. Set the dye with
alum, putting a piece the size of a large hazelnut to each quart of water.
Light Blue Dye, for silks and woollens, is made with the 'blue
composition,' to be procured of the hatmakers; fifteen drops to a quart
of water. Articles dipped in this, must be thoroughly rinsed. For a dark
blue, boil four ounces of copperas in two gallons of water. Dip the
articles in this, and then in a strong decoction of logwood, boiled and
strained. Then wash them thoroughly in soapsuds.
Green Dye. First color the article yellow; and then, if it be
silk or woollen, dip it in 'blue composition.' Instead of ironing, rub
it with flannel, while drying.
Salmon Color is made by boiling arnotto or anotta in soapsuds.
Buff Color is made by putting one teacupful of pot ash, tied
in a bag, in two gallons of hot (not boiling) water, and adding an ounce
of arnotto, also in a bag, keeping it in for half an hour. First, wet the
article in strong potashwater. Dry and then rinse in soapsuds. Birch
bark and alum also make a buff. Black alder, set with fey, makes an orange
Dove and Slate Colors, of all shades, are made by boiling, in
an iron vessel, a teacupful of black tea, with a teaspoonful of copperas.
Dilute this, till you get the shade wanted. Purple sugarpaper, boiled,
and set with alum, makes a similar color.
Brown Dye. Boil half a pound of camwood (in a bag) in two gallons
of water, for fifteen minutes. Wet the articles, and boil them for a few
minutes in the dye. Whitewalnut bark, the bark of sour sumach, or
of white maple, set with alum, make a brown color.
Black Dye. Let one pound of chopped logwood remain all night
in one gallon of vinegar. Then boil them, and put in a piece of copperas,
as large as a hen's egg. Wet the articles in warm water, and put them in
the dye, boiling and stirring them for fifteen minutes. Dry them, then
wet them in warm water, and dip them again. Repeat the process, till the
articles are black enough. Wash them in suds, and rinse them till the water
comes off clear. Iron nails, boiled in vinegar, make a black dye, which
is good for restoring rusty black silks.
Olive Color. Boil fustic and yellowoak bark together. The more fustic, the brighter the olive; the more oak bark, the darker the shade. Set the light shade with a few drops of oil of vitriol, and the dark shade with copperas.
ON THE CARE OF CHAMBERS AND BEDROOMS
A comfortable couch, for chambers and sitting rooms, can be made by a common carpenter, at a small expense. Have a frame made ([see figure]) of common stuff, six feet long, twenty-eight inches wide, and twelve inches high. It must be made thus low, because the casters and coushions will raise it several inches. Have the sloping side-piece, a, and head-piece b sawed out of a board; nail brown linen on them, and stuff them with soft hay or hair. Let these be screwed to the frame, and covered with furniture patch. Then let slats be nailed across the bottom, as at c, c, four inches apart. This will cost two or three dollars. Then make a thick cushion, of hay or straw, with side strips, like a mattress, and lay this for the under-cushion. To put over this, make a thinner cushion, of hair, cover it with furniture-calico, and fasten to it a valance reaching to the floor. Then make two square pillows, and cover them with calico, like the rest. Both the cushions should be stitched through like mattresses.
The writer has seen a couch of this kind, in a common parlor, which cost less than eight dollars, was much admired, and was a constant comfort to the feeble mother, as well as many other members of the family.You can support this site at no cost if you make an Amazon purchase using this link to get to Amazon: Thanks