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American Woman's Home
Catherine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe
With respect to the exterior view, students should note the cross on the roof, the floor to ceiling windows opening on to the piazzas (both Beecher strategies aimed at bringing fresh air and nature into the house to promote health and taste), and the house's location in the country in pleasant surroundings. The figures are at work doing what appears to be gardening--another Beecher gambit to encourage economy and health.
Students may have some difficulty understanding the Beechers' plans for the moveable screen and the recess. The screen was their scheme for dividing the large room into two smaller ones for different uses. Their example involved putting drawing room decor on one side of the screen and bedroom storage on the other. The screen, thereby, constituted one of their economic strategies. The recess was intended to display pictures, statuary, floral arrangements and items intended for spiritual uplift and, by extension, to demonstrate a family's tastefulness.
Other than these two somewhat obscure peculiarities, the significance of the other household design features--the piano, the conservatory, the sofa, the centrality of the kitchen and heating/ventilation system--should be less perplexing.
One of the foremost woman writers of the nineteenth century, Catherine Beecher was one of the chief proponents of the "cult of domesticity," devoting much of her writing to domestic and household topics both ideological and practical.
Questions to Consider
- Using the first picture, answer the following.:
- Where is the house located?
- How big is the house?
- What are the most significant features of the house and its lot?
- What are the figures doing in the picture?
- Look at the second picture and answer the following:
- What is a conservatory?
- What is a piazza?
- What furniture is in the drawing room?
- What occupies the center of the house?
- What is the function of the moveable screen?
- What is the purpose of the recess?
- The Beechers described their houseplan as "what may be properly called a Christian house; that is a house contrived for the express purpose of enabling every member of a family to labor with the hands for the common good, and by modes at once healthful, economical, and tasteful." How do the sketch and floorplan illustrate their conceptualization of the "Christian house?"
- How does the plan for the American home illustrate the ideology of the "cult of domesticity?"
Catherine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe, American Woman's Home
(New York: J.B. Ford & Co., 1869) reprinted Stowe-Day Foundation, 1987, pp. 23, 26..
- Godey's Lady's Book Online
Several complete issues of one of the 19th century's most popular women's magazines. Fashion illustrations galore, plus poetry, engravings, and articles.