Selling Mrs. Consumer: Christine Frederick and the Rise of Household Efficiency

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Overview


This first book-length treatment of the life and work of Christine Frederick (1883-1970) reveals an important dilemma that faced educated women of the early twentieth century. Contrary to her professional role as home efficiency expert, advertising consultant, and consumer advocate, Christine Frederick espoused the nineteenth-century ideal of preserving the virtuous home--and a woman's place in it. In an effort to reconcile her desire to succeed in the public sphere of modernization and consumerism with the knowledge that most middle-class Americans still held traditional beliefs about gender roles, Frederick fashioned a career for herself that encouraged other women to remain at home.

With the rise of home economics and scientific management, Frederick--college-educated but confined to the drudgery of housework--devised a plan for bringing the public sphere into the domestic. Her home would become her factory. She learned how to standardize tasks by observing labor-saving devices in industry and then applied this knowledge to housework. She standardized dishwashing, for example, by breaking the job into three separate operations: scraping and stacking, washing, and drying and putting away. Determined to train women to become proficient homemakers and efficient managers, Frederick secured a job writing articles for the Ladies' Home Journal. A professional career as home efficiency expert later expanded to include advertising consultant and consumer advocate. Frederick assured male advertisers that she knew women well and promised to help them sell to "Mrs. Consumer."

While Frederick sought the power and influence available only to men, she promoted a division of labor by gender and therefore served the fall of the early-twentieth-century wave of feminism. Rutherford's engaging account of Christine Frederick's life reflects a dilemma that continues to affect women today--whether to seek professional gratification or adhere to traditional family values.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An engaging biography that simultaneously illuminates the relations between women's private and public lives and advances our understanding of the growth of their public initiatives during the Progressive Era."--Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Eleanore Raoul Professor of History, Emory University

"A significant contribution to women's studies and American history."--Natalie A. Naylor, Professor of History Emerita, Hofstra University

"Rutherford provides a valuable addition to the literature of gender studies and domestic technology in this account of the enigmatic Christine Frederick. . . . Part biography, part review of the failure of early-twentieth-century feminism, the professionalization of home economics, business and advertising history, and the development and marketing of new household technology, this book melds all into a coherent study of an important, complex, not always likeable, but ultimately sympathetic character."--Choice

"This fascinating study weaves together Frederick's life and her many social and political contexts. . . . This biography balances exposure of Christine Frederick's contradictions with respect for her many professional accomplishments. . . . Christine Frederick was at the cutting edge of the development of consumer culture, and this biography will be of value to anyone interested in the ways in which public and private continually informed each other in the early twentieth century."--Journal of American History

"Expertly written and researched, as well as undeniably engaging."--History: Reviews of New Books

"Reviewing the literature of domestic science and biographies of many of the main figures working in domestic science during Frederick's life, such as Ellen Swallow Richards and Isabel Bevier, Rutherford's work is a welcome addition to the literature. . . . A very readable and thoroughly documented work."--H-Women

"Provides a valuable perspective through which to understand the rise of modern consumer society."--Enterprise & Society

"Rutherford has made a useful contribution to the history of women, domesticity, and consumer culture. She has portrayed the constraints, accomplishments, and shortcomings of Frederick's life in a historically meaningful way that has profound and unsettling contemporary relevance."--Gastronomica

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820324494
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2003
  • Pages: 290
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Janice Williams Rutherford is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Museum Studies at the University of Oregon.
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Table of Contents

Preface
Prologue
Introduction
1 "Only a Girl" 8
2 "Drudgifying Housework" 25
3 The Rise of Home Economics and Scientific Management 36
4 Conceiving a Career 46
5 Promoting Industry to Save the Home 59
6 Expounding the Business Ethic 72
7 Accommodating Progressivism 86
8 "A World Wide Lecturer" 96
9 Reframing Women's Role in the Twenties 108
10 Becoming Mrs. Consumer 121
11 Private Life 136
12 Selling Out Mrs. Consumer 146
13 The Twilight of a Career 157
14 Re-creation and Legacy 172
Epilogue 184
App Chronology of Chrisrine Frederick's Life 193
Notes 197
Bibliography 253
Index 271
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