Learning to Behave: A Guide to American Conduct Books before 1900

Learning to Behave: A Guide to American Conduct Books before 1900

Learning to Behave: A Guide to American Conduct Books before 1900

Learning to Behave: A Guide to American Conduct Books before 1900

Synopsis

A popular genre from colonial times to 1900, the conduct book provides the youthful reader with authoritative guidance about right moral, religious, and gender role behavior. With the aim of teaching the young what they need to know--and believe--about society's expectations for the ideal young man and woman, the genre codified "true" American manhood and womanhood. This guide provides an analytic and historical overview of the conduct book and its cultural work in America. With an annotated bibliography of over 500 books, it provides easy and direct access to conduct books for adults of each sex and for children.

Excerpt

The history of this bibliography is one of coincidence and chance encounter. While a graduate student at University of California at Davis, I happened to be visiting a friend and colleague at the University of Akron, Ohio, whose major work had been in American Studies and literature. I was at just that point in my work that almost every graduate student understands and knows: the course work is essentially done, the major exams taken, but only vague ideas for a dissertation project have emerged. This colleague, Professor Dale Doepke, suggested that I might take a look at some texts he had been interested in and had started preliminary bibliographic work on some years before, texts that he called "conduct books." His work had resulted in about a three- inch stack of notecards, mostly just bibliographic entries but some researched and annotated, work he'd done primarily in the New York and the Boston Public libraries, the American Antiquarian Society, and Library of Congress.

Some of the conduct books in that stack of cards were for women; others were for men and for children. And as I began to search out and read these and other conduct books, I realized that these texts were where the guidelines for the good behavior and moral development of American youth had been codified, legitimized, and institutionalized. Conduct books presented the published secular models of role expectations for young Americans, dating at least in one case--Cotton Mather Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion--to the seventeenth century. And these texts were virtually undiscovered, often having lain hidden in libraries masked as . . .

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