A Helpmeet (1890)

“A compendium of valuable information for women” so describes the title page of the 1890 book The Mother’s Guide and Daughter’s Friend. It’s true, this book covers just about anything a woman of the late 1800s might need to know. The anonymous author (who suggests that if you really must find out who [she or he] is, you can contact the publisher) has “read a large number of works each containing something valuable, some containing much that is untrue, others much that has no bearing on the subject…” to cull “a large amount of valuable information.”  Hmm ~ sounds a bit like yours truly! No wonder I like this book so much. The book actually has directions for its use, which I must share with you some other time, as it is quite handy. But in the meantime, since folks always seem to enjoy those quaint looks back at how men and women should act in marriage, here’s something from a section called “A Helpmeet”:

"Woman has a power over man stronger than she may dream if she only knows his peculiarities and adapts her conduct to them. Does your husband love to see things in order, then be careful and keep the house in good shape. Does he love a good dinner, then study your cook book and study his tastes. Does he like to be caressed, do your prettiest in that line. Does he admire beauty in women, then dress neatly and tidily and try to keep clean and in good health, and meet him with a smile. Is he a man of literary tastes, cultivate your literary taste, and be appreciative of his ability. If he loves beautiful things, study house decorations and defer to his tastes….

Most men like to be petted and deferred to. A wife may defer to her husband’s opinion and not lose her own independence nor lower herself in any way. The truly polite person is the one who is a good listener; who treats no one’s opinion lightly. A woman need only to be truly polite to her husband. It is also the husband’s duty to defer to his wife’s opinions. In many cases her opinion is the best. But if she would have her way at times, she must at times give way to her husband. Husband and wife should be mutually polite, mutually deferent, mutually obedient.

Does the man meet with disappointment and failure in business, the wife should not chide him, should not mope and sulk and wonder how they are going to get along now, but meet him with words of encouragement and love.

The happy pair are the man and wife who are constantly deferring to each other, who frequently caress each other, make sacrifices for each other, who are always striving to relieve each other’s burdens. Courtship should not stop with the wedding ceremony. Man and wife should court each other always. This is written especially for the wife to read, and I want to impress upon her the fact that love begets love, politeness begets politeness, and if she does her part the husband will be more likely to do his part, and that much depends upon her own individual effort…."


That’s right, ladies, it’s all up to you. But wait, one more thing:

"Man feels the need of recreation, perhaps, more than women, because his work is severer for the time he is at it. Women have more little breaks upon the monotony of their labor. They can chat a moment over the back fence with a neighbor, take up a book and read for a few minutes while  the kettle boils, take a nap in the afternoon, go out for an hour’s walk, or call upon a friend; but the man toils in his office, or store, or in the field for hours at a stretch, and then, perhaps, must think over his work outside of business hours. If then, he relishes hunting and fishing, has a passion for dogs or horses, or “goes crazy” in the collection of a cabinet of natural history specimens, or something of the kind, you should have charity for his peculiarities, and do not come to the conclusion that he thinks more of such things than he does of you."