Turning the Century: Essays in Media and Cultural Studies

By Carol A. Stabile | Go to book overview

9
Conspicuous Whiteness:
The New Woman, the Old Negro,
and the Vanishing Past of
Early Brand Advertising

CARLA WILLARD

Few advertisers in the late nineteenth century needed to drive home the idea that household chores were messy and cumbersome: Since Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe had visited and written about the homes of rural women and townswomen in midcentury America, the do-it-yourself household and the self-sufficient housewife had been the concentrated focus of magazine columns and advice manuals on organizing and "managing" the seemingly endless tasks of housekeeping. 1 Beecher, Stowe, and like-minded domestic reformers had shuddered for decades over the drudgery of drawn-out housework. They counted excessive tasks; marked strenuous labor as a danger for women's health; and struck fear in the hearts of readers with tales of overcrowded, houses with dank, stuffy rooms that led to gradual physical and mental deterioration, and eventually, according to Beecher and Stowe, to "household murder." 2 The sheer number of domestic tasks was a recurrent problem addressed in manuals like M. L. Rayne What Can A Woman Do? Rayne listed dozens of tasks and suggested that housewives themselves order and manage the lighter household chores but hire a maid to take over tasks demanding more physical strength, such as laundry. 3

Other manuals also offered lists of household tasks, one of them claiming that the exceeding number and physical rigor of these tasks "dwarfs the intellect, ruins the health, and shortens the lives of so many women." 4 These manuals either took Beecher's and Stowe's tack and argued that women (though unpaid) should

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