Talk about Books

Queen of the Home: Her Reign from Infancy to Age (Volume I)

For our paper anniversary, my husband got me one of my favorite things: an old ass etiquette book. I thought I'd share some pages with you all.

Queen of the Home was published in 1889 in Philadelphia. It was written by Emma Churchman Hewitt. Here's a bit of her bio:

She lived in Camden for many years, moving to West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the late 19th Century. She was a fluent French scholar, and had a knowledge of several other languages. She began writing short stories at such an early age that it was said she was “born with a pen in her hand.” In 1884, she became a journalist, and worked for the Burlington, New Jersey,Daily Evening Reporter for some time. In 1885, at the request of the publisher of the Ladies' Home Journal, she began a series of articles titled Scribbler's Letters to Gustavus Adolphus. The next year she became associate editor of the journal, serving there four years. She regularly contributed sketches, short stories and articles on domestic topics to at least a dozen other periodicals, as well. Around 1895, she left the Ladies' Home Journal and became associated with the Home Magazine in Washington, DC, and, after the death of her sister, with the monthly Leisure Hours in Philadelphia.


The first volume of this book is entitled "home occupations" and is about essentially what you'd guess. I think the reason I enjoy these types of books is: 1) to see how much (or little) things have changed, and in some cases, what precipitated the change and 2) to see what some weird habits we still have are rooted in. But mostly this chapter amazed me because HOLY SHIT, she requires a hell of a lot of cleaning for a nice home. Mine would not pass muster. On the other hand, she gives a lot of practical "modern-day" advice that I kind of like. Unlike the books I have that are written by men (for women) her advice isn't condescending, but rather, kind of helpful.

I really wanted to find an original price point on this book but have utterly failed. But I think we can all assume that this book was probably only available to the upper class, given literacy rates (note those rates include men, which may skew the overall results; I cannot find them for only women), the cost of the book, and the time cost of reading for leisure.

Anyway, moving on to my favorite highlights.

This first page would definitely prohibit most of us squalorites from marriage:


Damn, that's harsh. This next page made me ever so thankful for the existence of washing machines. And it really does kind of remind you how much the rise of availability of appliances really started the second wave movement. (It also reminds you of one of the reasons second wave feminism unfortunately centered around woman who could afford things like appliances! It's a lot easier to get out and about when you have a machine doing the work.)


This next one is for Team Pie:


This chapter on sweeping, holy shit. Remove every piece of furniture? Clean the corners with a rag? The pre-sweep work alone would take me all day:


This section made me yell a resounding "Yes!" I hate feather dusters. I do NOT understand why they are a thing. They are terrible. They should be abolished.


I found this next section on finances really interesting. She really advocates heavily for the woman to be in control of the finances of the house. I wonder a bit if she doesn't have an ulterior motive for this, to give women more control of their destinies, so to speak. But the way she advocates for it really creates an argument to make to one's husband: a woman should know how much is spent, so she can get the best value, and a husband should not "burden his mind, already so full of important items of business, with the prices of soap and starch?" I love the manipulation here.

She also heavily advocates against debt... that is, you should pay cash for items rather than on account. I like the little section on how to get out of debt... just ask your creditor! He'll be super nice about it, promise. LOL OK.


There's also a whole section that I apparently didn't photograph on why women should sit to do chores, rather than stand. The reason being that women too often stand all day doing stuff, and end up injuring themselves. She goes through a list of chores that could easily be performed sitting rather than standing. I found that so fascinating because basically all we do now is advocate for people to stand up! get up! move! It's always something; usually the opposite of whatever it is you are doing.


So that's it for volume I. Volume II is Home Decorations, so stay tuned!

Should you want to page through the book on your own, a free electronic copy is available here (totally legal; copyright expired).

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