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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: The Proper Victorian Lady

Founded in 1830, Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine became the most widely read magazine for women. In the 1850s, Godey's circulation reached 150,000, a huge number for the time, and it is almost certain that Adeline Hornbek was among its readers. The magazine preached middle-class values and firmly decreed that a woman's place was in the home creating a clean and wholesome atmosphere for her family. The following excerpt from Godey's "The Editor's Table," January 1860, expresses the important role of the woman in the home as espoused by the magazine:

There is the wife and mother, the centre of the family, the magnet that draws man to the domestic altar, that makes him a civilized being, a social Christian. The wife is truly the light of the home, and if she will do faithfully the duties God has imposed on her condition, He will bless and sustain her. She is the teacher and inspirer of her children, and angels share or sympathize with her....

It should be woman's part to soften the dark hours of affliction and brighten the happy days of joy. God has gifted her with finer sensibilities and quicker fancy than are needful or suitable to the harder and stronger sex. Women, therefore, step out of their own path when they attempt to encroach on the proper masculine pursuits; and in doing so they lose their own advantages, which are great--for God has been kind to His daughter, the 'last, best work' of creation--and forsake their own duties, which are of paramount importance in society, without being able to perform those belonging to man. They thus become, unhappy beings....

Every woman can, if she sincerely wish it, contribute to make the home in which she lives pleasanter and better for her presence. Let her cultivate what is agreeable and cheerful, as well as exercise the sober duties of her position, and bear in mind that 'the fruit of the Spirit (or piety) is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, meekness, temperance.' Then she will be a mighty agent in promoting the best good of society, and may join with angels in the sweet song of peace on earth.

All persons of good sense and right feeling know perfectly well that the true happiness of families is found in their internal resources, and....'the sober certainty of waking bliss must be found at HOME or nowhere.' To promote domestic enjoyment is, therefore, a subject of paramount importance. This has been our cherished object, and in all the variety of literary, artistic, and useful subjects we have set before our readers during the past months of this eventful year, we have aimed to make plain the right manner of life, so that woman may comprehend how best she can enjoy, embellish, and exalt home duties and home pleasures.

1. Based on your knowledge of Adeline Hornbek, do you think she exemplified the ideal Victorian woman? Why or why not?

2. Would the hard life required as a homesteader ever fit in with the concept of a proper lady as presented in the excerpt? Why or why not? How do you think the reality of frontier life might have impacted this concept of a woman's domestic role?

3. How old was Hornbek when this typical article was published? How do you think it might have affected her ideas and her behavior?

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