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This innovative compilation sheds new light on Alcott's commitment to ameliorating oppressive conditions of all kinds. Madeleine B. Stern pairs selections from the writings of reform leaders with excerpts from Alcott's letters, fiction, and nonfiction works to demonstrate that Alcott was aware of and often moved by the words of other reformers. Stern illuminates the connections between Alcott and the printed sources that filtered into her life and work, and shows how she wove reformist themes throughout her writings, prodding her readers to right the wrongs at home and in the nation.
Copyright © 2002 Madeleine B. Stern.
All rights reserved.
(1869; Revision of Catharine Beecher's
A Treatise on Domestic Economy, 1841)
The person who decides what shall be the food and drink of a family, and the modes of its preparation, is the one who decides, to a greater or less extent, what shall be the health of that family. It is the opinion of most medical men, that intemperance in eating is one of the most fruitful of all causes of disease and death. If this be so, the woman who wisely adapts the food and cooking of her family to the laws of health removes one of the greatest risks which threatens the lives of those under her care. But, unfortunately, there is no other duty that has been involved in more doubt and perplexity. Were one to believe all that is said and written on this subject, the conclusion probably would be, that there is not one solitary article of food on God's earth which it is healthful to eat. Happily, however, there are general principles on this subject which, if understood and applied, will prove a safe guide to any woman of common sense; and it is the object of the following chapter to set forth these principles....
Experiments on animals prove that fine flour alone, which is chiefly carbon, will not sustain life more than a month, while unbolted flour furnishes all that is needed for every part of the body. There are cases where persons can not use such coarse bread, on account of its irritating action on inflamed coats of the stomach. For such, a kind of wheaten grit is provided, containing all the kernel of the wheat, except the outside woody fibre....
The proper digestion of food depends on the wants of the body, and on its power of appropriating the aliment supplied. The best of food can not be properly digested when it is not needed. All that the system requires will be used, and the rest will be thrown out by the several excreting organs, which thus are frequently over-taxed, and vital forces are wasted. Even food of poor quality may digest well if the demands of the system are urgent. The way to increase digestive power is to increase the demand for food by pure air and exercise of the muscles, quickening the blood, and arousing the whole system to a more rapid and vigorous rate of life....
Students who need food with little carbon, and women who live in the house, should always seek coarse bread; fruits, and lean meats, and avoid butter, oils, sugar, and molasses, and articles containing them.
Many students and women using little exercise in the open air, grow thin and weak, because the vital powers are exhausted in throwing off excess of food, especially of the carbonaceous....
When too great a supply of food is put into the stomach, the gastric juice dissolves only that portion which the wants of the system demand. Much of the remainder is ejected, in an unprepared state.... Very often, intemperance in eating produces immediate results, such as colic, headaches, pains of indigestion, and vertigo....
The general rule, then, is, that three hours be given to the stomach for labor, and two for rest; and in obedience to this, five hours, at least, ought to elapse between every two regular meals. In cases where exercise produces a flow of perspiration, more food is needed to supply the loss; and strong laboring men may safely eat as often as they feel the want of food. So, young and healthy children, who gambol and exercise much and whose bodies grow fast, may have a more frequent supply of food. But, as a general rule, meals should be five hours apart, and eating between meals avoided. There is nothing more unsafe, and wearing to the constitution, than a habit of eating at any time merely to gratify the palate....
Those persons who keep their bodies in a state of health by sufficient exercise can always be guided by the calls of hunger. They can eat when they feel hungry, and stop when hunger ceases; and thus they will calculate exactly right. But the difficulty is, that a large part of the community, especially women, are so inactive in their habits that they seldom feel the calls of hunger. They habitually eat, merely to gratify the palate....
It is also found, by experience, that the lean part of animal food is more stimulating than vegetable. This is the reason why, in cases of fevers or inflammations, medical men forbid the use of meat. A person who lives chiefly on animal food is under a higher degree of stimulus than if his food was chiefly composed of vegetable substances. His blood will flow faster, and all the functions of his body will be quickened. This makes it important to secure a proper proportion of animal and vegetable diet. Some medical men suppose that an exclusively vegetable diet is proved, by the experience of many individuals, to be fully sufficient to nourish the body.... in America, far too large a portion of the diet consists of animal food.
In this country there are three forms in which the use of ... stimulants is common; namely alcoholic drinks, opium mixtures, and tobacco. These are all alike in the main peculiarity of imparting that extra stimulus to the system which tends to exhaust its powers.... When alcohol is taken into the stomach, ... it is always carried to the brain. The consequence is, that it affects that nature and action of the brain-cells, until a habit is formed which is automatic; that is, the mind loses the power of controlling the brain in its development of thoughts, feelings, and choices as it would in the natural state, and is itself controlled by the brain. In this condition a real disease of the brain is created, called vino-mania, (or wine-madness,) and the only remedy is total abstinence, and that for a long period, from the alcoholic poison....
It is allowed by all medical men that pure water is perfectly healthful and supplies all the liquid needed by the body; and also that by proper means, which ordinarily are in the reach of all, water can be made sufficiently pure.
It is allowed by all that milk, and the juices of fruits, when taken into the stomach, furnish water that is always pure and that our bread and vegetable food also supply it in large quantities. There are besides a great variety of agreeable and healthful beverages, made from the juices of fruit, containing no alcohol, and agreeable drinks, such as milk, cocoa, and chocolate, that contain no stimulating principles, and which are nourishing and healthful.
As one course, then, is perfectly safe and another involves great danger, it is wrong and sinful to choose the path of danger. There is no peril in drinking pure water, milk, the juices of fruits, and infusions that are nourishing and harmless. But there is great danger to the young, and to the commonwealth, in patronizing the sale and use of alcoholic drinks.... Tea has not one particle of nourishing properties; and what little exists in the coffee-berry is lost by roasting it in the usual mode. All that these articles do, is simply to stimulate without nourishing....
The use of opium, especially by women, is usually caused at first by medical prescriptions containing it. All that has been stated as to the effect of alcohol in the brain is true of opium; while, to break a habit thus induced is almost hopeless. Every woman who takes or who administers this drug, is dealing as with poisoned arrows, whose wounds are without cure.
The compression of the lower part of the waist is especially dangerous at the time young girls first enter society and are tempted to dress according to the fashion. Many a school-girl, whose waist was originally of a proper and healthful size, has gradually pressed the soft bones of youth until the lower ribs that should rise and fall with every breath, become entirely unused.... No stiff bone should be allowed to press in front, and the jacket should be so loose that a full breath can be inspired with ease, while in a sitting position....
If a school-girl dress without corsets and without tight belts could be established as a fashion, it would be one step gained in the right direction. Then if mothers could secure daily domestic exercise in chambers, eating-rooms and parlors in loose dresses, a still farther advance would be secured.
(Merry's Museum, October 1869)
The "Old-Fashioned Girl" is not intended as a period model, but as a possible improvement upon the Girl of the Period, who seems sorrowfully ignorant or ashamed of the good old fashions which make woman truly beautiful and honored, and, through her, render home what it should be,—a happy place, where parents and children, brothers and sisters, learn to love and know and help one another.
(Eight Cousins, 1875)
When her uncle appeared at sound of the bell, he found her surveying with an anxious face a new dish that smoked upon the table.
"Got a fresh trouble, Rosy?" he asked, stroking her smooth head.
"Uncle, are you going to make me eat oatmeal?" asked Rose, in tragic tone.
"Don't you like it?"
"I de-test it!" answered Rose, with all the emphasis which a turned-up nose, a shudder, and a groan could give to the three words.
"You are not a true Scotchwoman, if you don't like the 'parritch.' It's a pity, for I made it myself, and thought we'd have such a good time with all that cream to float in it. Well, never mind." And he sat down with a disappointed air.
Rose had made up her mind to be obstinate about it, because she did heartily "detest" the dish, but as Uncle Alec did not attempt to make her obey, she suddenly changed her mind and thought she would.
"I'll try to eat it to please you, uncle; but people are always saying how wholesome it is, and that makes me hate it," she said, half ashamed at her silly excuse.
"I do want you to like it, because I wish my girl to be as well and strong as Jessie's boys, who are brought up on this in the good old fashion. No hot bread and fried stuff for them, and they are the biggest and bonniest lads of the lot."
... Phebe came out of the dining-room with a plate of brown bread, for Rose had been allowed no biscuit for tea.
"... I'd rather you learned how to make good bread than the best pies ever baked. When you bring me a handsome, wholesome loaf, entirely made by yourself, I shall be more pleased than if you offered me a pair of slippers embroidered in the very latest style. I'll ... promise to eat every crumb of the loaf myself."
It was some time before the perfect loaf appeared, for bread-making is an art not easily learned, ... so Rose studied yeast first, and ... came at last to the crowning glory of the "handsome, wholesome loaf."
[Dr. Alec] smiled ... as he said,— "This is part of the cure, Rose, and I put you here that you might take my three great remedies in the best and easiest way. Plenty of sun, fresh air, and cold water."
Phebe appeared with a cup of coffee.
"Debby told me to bring this and help you get up," she said....
"I'm all dressed, so I don't need any help. I hope that is good and strong," added Rose, eyeing the steaming cup with an eager look.
But she did not get it, for a brown hand took possession of it as her uncle said quickly,—
"Hold hard, my lass, and let me overhaul that close before you take it. Do you drink all this strong coffee every morning, Rose?"
"Yes, sir, and I like it. Auntie says it 'tones' me up, and I always feel better after it."
"This accounts for the sleepless nights, the flutter your heart gets into at the least start, and this is why that cheek of yours is pale yellow instead of rose red. No more coffee for you, my dear, and by and by you'll see that I am right. Any new milk downstairs, Phebe?"
"Yes, sir, plenty—right in from the barn."
"That's the drink for my patient. Go bring me a pitcherfull, and another cup; I want a draught myself."
("Jimmy's Lecture," from The Union Signal;
"Jimmy, throw that jug into the pig-pen. Smash it first, and be sure you don't taste a drop of the vile stuff," said an anxious-looking woman as she handed her little son the brown jug which she had just found hidden in the shed.
"Father won't like it," began the boy, eyeing the ugly thing with a look of fear and hate; for it made mother miserable, and father a brute.
"I said I'd make way with it the next time I found it, and I will! It's full, and I don't feel as if I could live through another dreadful time like the last. If we put it out of sight, maybe father will keep sober for another month, Be quick, before he comes home." And the poor woman pushed the boy to the door as if she could not wait a minute till the curse of her life was destroyed.
Glad to comfort her, and have the fun of smashing anything, Jimmy ran off, and giving the jug a good bang on the post, let the whiskey run where it would as he flung the pieces into the pig-pen, and went back to his work.
He was only eleven; but he struggled manfully with the old saw, and the tough apple-tree boughs he had collected for fuel. It was father's work, but he neglected it, and Jimmy wouldn't see mother suffer from cold, so he trimmed the trees, and did his best to keep the fire going. He had to stop often to rest, and in these pauses he talked to himself, having no other company.
Not long after the destruction of the jug, he heard a great commotion in the pen, and, looking in, saw the two pigs capering about in a curious way. Then ran up and down, squealed and skipped, and...
Excerpted from L.M. Alcott by Madeleine B. Stern. Copyright © 2002 by Madeleine B. Stern. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|1||Domestic Reform: Food, Drink, Dress||19|
|The American Woman's Home||21|
|L. M. Alcott's Domestic Philosophy: Merry's Museum||26|
|L. M. Alcott on Food: Eight Cousins||27|
|L. M. Alcott on Drink: Eight Cousins||29|
|L. M. Alcott on Drink: "Jimmy's Lecture," The Press Leaflets||30|
|L. M. Alcott on Dress: An Old-Fashioned Girl||33|
|L. M. Alcott on Dress: Eight Cousins||35|
|2||Health and Alternative Medicine: Homeopathy, Phrenology, Mind Cure||37|
|Organon of the Healing Art||39|
|Synopsis of Phrenology and Physiology||41|
|Trust in the Infinite||44|
|L. M. Alcott on Homeopathy: Eight Cousins||46|
|L. M. Alcott: "Lines to a Good Physician, From a Grateful Patient"||47|
|Phrenological Examination of L. M. Alcott||48|
|L. M. Alcott: Poem to Her Sister Anna Pratt||49|
|Character Analysis of L. M. Alcott in Phrenological Journal||50|
|L. M. Alcott on Mind Cure: Letters to Maggie Lukens||51|
|L. M. Alcott on Mind Cure: Journal, 1885||53|
|"Miss Alcott on Mind-Cure": The Woman's Journal||54|
|3||Education: Moral, Intellectual, Physical||57|
|Record of Mr. Alcott's School||59|
|Reports of the School Committee, and Superintendent of the Schools||63|
|Catalogue and Circular of Dr. Dio Lewis's Family School for Young Ladies||66|
|L. M. Alcott's Pedagogical Credo: Little Men, An Old-Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins, Jo's Boys||69|
|L. M. Alcott on the New Gymnastics: Letter to Louisa C. G. Bond||71|
|L. M. Alcott: "The King of Clubs and the Queen of Hearts," The Monitor||72|
|4||Communal Society: "The Newness"||75|
|A. Bronson Alcott to Junius Alcott||77|
|Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands||79|
|L. M. Alcott's Journal: Fruitlands||83|
|L. M. Alcott: "Transcendental Wild Oats," The Independent||87|
|5||Antislavery and Abolition||103|
|Vigilance Committee [Re: Anthony Burns], Americans, Freemen||105|
|George and Mary Mauzy of Harpers Ferry to James and Eugenia Burton||106|
|John Brown's Speech before the Court||108|
|Hannah Ropes, Civil War Nurse: The Diary and Letters of Hannah Ropes||110|
|Some Recollections of the Antislavery Conflict||113|
|L. M. Alcott: "With a Rose, That Bloomed on the Day of John Brown's Martyrdom," The Liberator||116|
|L. M. Alcott to Anna Alcott||116|
|L. M. Alcott to Anna Alcott Pratt||118|
|L. M. Alcott to Edward J. Bartlett and Garth Wilkinson James||120|
|L. M. Alcott to Alfred Whitman||121|
|L. M. Alcott to Mr. Rand||123|
|L. M. Alcott to Thomas Wentworth Higginson||123|
|6||Woman's Economic Role: Egalitarianism||137|
|Woman in the Nineteenth Century||139|
|"Petition of Abby May Alcott and Others to the Citizens of Massachusetts," Una||141|
|A Practical Illustration of "Woman's Right to Labor"; or, A Letter from Marie E. Zakrzewska, M.D., ...||142|
|L. M. Alcott: "How I Went Out to Service," The Independent||144|
|L. M. Alcott to James Redpath||145|
|L. M. Alcott: "Happy Women," New York Ledger||146|
|L. M. Alcott: Work: A Story of Experience||150|
|L. M. Alcott to Maria S. Porter||152|
|Rose in Bloom: A Sequel to "Eight Cousins"||153|
|7||Sex and Feminism||155|
|The Young Wife||157|
|Woman in the Nineteenth Century||161|
|L. M. Alcott: "Taming a Tartar," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper||162|
|L. M. Alcott: "Woman's Part in the Concord Celebration," Woman's Journal||198|
|William Henry Channing to the Woman's Rights Convention||205|
|"Petition of Abby May Alcott and Others to the Citizens of Massachusetts," Una||209|
|L. M. Alcott to Lucy Stone||211|
|L. M. Alcott to The Woman's Journal||214|
|L. M. Alcott to the American Woman Suffrage Association||220|