Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America

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Overview

A nation’s standards of private cleanliness reveal much about its ideals of civilization, fears of disease, and expectations for public life, says Kathleen Brown in this unusual cultural history. Starting with the shake-up of European practices that coincided with Atlantic expansion, she traces attitudes toward “dirt” through the mid-nineteenth century, demonstrating that cleanliness—and the lack of it—had moral, religious, and often sexual implications. Brown contends that care of the body is not simply a private matter but an expression of cultural ideals that reflect the fundamental values of a society.

The book explores early America’s evolving perceptions of cleanliness, along the way analyzing the connections between changing public expectations for appearance and manners, and the backstage work of grooming, laundering, and housecleaning performed by women. Brown provides an intimate view of cleanliness practices and how such forces as urbanization, immigration, market conditions, and concerns about social mobility influenced them. Broad in historical scope and imaginative in its insights, this book expands the topic of cleanliness to encompass much larger issues, including religion, health, gender, class, and race relations.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300171556
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 2/22/2011
  • Series: Society and the Sexes in the Modern World Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 811,112
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Kathleen M. Brown is professor of history, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia. She lives in Merion Station, PA.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

A Note on the Text xiv

Introduction 1

Part I Atlantic Crossings

1 Caring for the Early Modern Body 15

2 Skin 42

3 Corruption 58

Part II Genteel Bodies

4 Empire's New Clothes 98

5 Gentility 118

6 Virtue 159

Part III Transforming Body Work

7 Reimagining Sickness and Health 195

8 Healing Housework 212

9 Redemption 233

10 Laborers 251

Part IV Crusades

11 Immersion 293

12 Mission 325

Afterword: Toward the Modern Body 357

Notes 369

Bibliographic Essay 431

Index 437

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