In 1840, Americans received the first translations of Charles Fourier's work and saw the first views of his phalanstery, a neoclassical palace full of mechanical inventions celebrated by utopian socialists and feminists for the next sixty years. In 1841, in her Treatise on Domestic Economy, Catharine Beecher published the first of her designs for Gothic cottages full of mechanical inventions. While Fourier argued for social services to help women, Beecher argued for women's self-sacrifice and domestic isolation. Yet there are more similarities than first appear. Both were interested in increasing women's power; both believed that new domestic environments were necessary to support women's new roles in an industrial society. Fourier and his followers saw women coming together with men in the phalanstery, while Beecher preferred the private suburban house where women derived their power from training their children and providing shelter for men from the world of urban work. She became the ultimate domestic feminist, demanding women's control over all aspects of domestic life.
Beecher (3.1), the spinster daughter of a Congregationalist minister, was born in 1800. In 1831 she produced her first book, The Elements of Mental and Moral Philosophy, Founded Upon Experience, Reason, and the Bible, which launched her life-long argument for the moral superiority of women based upon their highly developed capacity for self-sacrifice. In 1836, in a long essay celebrating the differences between male and female character, she introduced and elaborated now familiar stereotypes of gender. She began work in that same year on her Treatise on Domestic Economy, For the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School, which incorporated many of these ideas and was eventually published in 1841. Sklar estimates its effect: Beecher "exaggerated and heightened gender differences and thereby altered and romanticized the emphasis given to women's domestic role." 1 Unlike her earlier philosophical writings, which suffered from the stigma of female authorship, her Treatise was an immediate, popular success, running through yearly editions, adopted as a school text, a classic succeeded only by her even more popular work, The American Woman's Home, coauthored with her sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, in 1869.
The success of Beecher's Treatise and all of her subsequent domestic publications centered upon her agile definitions of female dominance in the home. Earlier American works on domestic economy assumed that men retained control of the typical middle-class household, including women, children, and servants, but as Sklar has noted, Beecher broke with this tradition tentatively in the Treatise and decisively in the American Woman's Home. 2 While she accepted a conventional definition of the domestic world as woman's sphere, she established herself as a leading advocate of domestic feminism by claiming that woman's greater capacity for