Jacksonian Miscellanies, #23: July 15, 1997

Topic: More Domestic Economy (Catharine Beecher)

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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Two issues back, I presented the metaphysical and ideological foundations of

Catharine Beecher's Domestic Economy,     or










As set forth in chapter 1, it concluded with "It is the building of a glorious temple, whose base shall be coextensive with the bounds of the earth, whose summit shall pierce the skies, whose splendor shall beam on all lands; and those who hew the lowliest stone, as much as those who carve the highest capital, will be equally honored, when its top­stone shall be laid, with new rejoicings of the morning stars, and shoutings of the sons of God."

In the following, taken from the body of the work, she describes how to keep a baby warm, and how warm to keep it, with a great deal of explanation based on the science of the day. Likewise, and with similar scientific accompaniment, she warns against wearing wool next to the skin, and most vociferously against tight clothing for women, for very tight corsets were the fashion.

She also scientifically explained the need for cleanliness:

The idea that the body could be devoured, or partially devoured, or poisoned or made to malfunction by organisms too small to see had not yet a part of the medical theorist's toolkit, of course.

In the chapter "On the Construction of Houses", she presents numerous plans for simple frame houses, and advise on where to plant shade trees. She even presents a design for indoor plumbing usable even in the wilderness, provided a well is near the house. In presenting a careful privy design, she concludes with "Every woman should use her influence to secure all these conveniences; even if it involves the sacrifice of the piazza, or 'the best parlor.'"

Next is presented part of a chapter "On Whitening, Cleansing, and Dying", which describes what substances can be used to dye cloth in various shades. Wheat bran, turmeric, various blossoms and types of bark, and "iron nails boiled in vinegar" are among the substances used.

The final selection describes how to make a "cheap couch", with a diagram to be shown to any "common carpenter" (or husband, I would guess), and directions on how to complete the work, using straw and/or hair for stuffing.



IT appears, by calculations made from bills of mortality, that one quarter of the human race perishes in infancy. This is a fact not in accordance with the analogy of Nature. No such mortality prevails among the young of animals; it does not appear to be the design of the Creator; and it must be owing to causes which can be removed. Medical men agree in the opinion, that a great portion of this mortality, is owing to mismanagement, in reference to fresh air. food, and clothing.

At birth, the circulation is chiefly in the vessels of the skin; for the liver and stomach, being feeble in action, demand less blood, and it resorts to the surface. If, therefore, an infant be exposed to cold, the blood is driven inward, by the contracting of the blood­vessels in the skin; and, the internal organs being thus overstimulated, bowel complaints, croup, convulsions, or some other evil, ensues. This shows the sad mistake of parents, who plunge infants in cold water to strengthen their constitution; and teaches, that infants should be washed in warm water, and in a warm room. Some have constitutions strong enough to bear mismanagement in these respects; but many fail in consequence of it.

Hence we see the importance of dressing infants warmly, and protecting them from exposure to a cold temperature. It is for this purpose, that mothers, now, very generally, cover the arms and necks of infants, especially in Winter. Fathers and mothers, if they were obliged to go with bare arms and necks, even in moderate weather, would often shiver with cold; and yet they have a power of constitution which would subject them to far less hazard and discomfort, than a delicate infant must experience from a similar exposure. This mode of dressing infants, with bare necks and arms, has arisen from the common impression, that they have a power of resisting cold superior to older persons. This is a mistake; for the experiments of medical men have established the fact, that the power of producing heat is least in the period of infancy.

Extensive investigations have been made in France, in reference to this point. It is there required, in some districts, that every infant, at birth, be carried to the office of the maire, [mayor,] to be registered. It is found in these districts, that the deaths of newly­born infants, are much more numerous in the cold, than in the warm, months; and that a much greater proportion of such deaths occurs among those who reside at a distance from the office of the maire, than among those in its vicinity. This proves, that exposure to cold has much to do with the continuance of infant life.

But it is as dangerous to go to the other extreme, and keep the body too warm. The skin, when kept at too high a temperature, is relaxed and weakened by too profuse perspiration, and becomes more sensitive, and more readily affected by every change of temperature. This increases the liabilities to sudden colds; and it frequently happens, that the children, who are most carefully guarded from cold, are the ones most liable to take sudden and dangerous chills. The reason is, that, by the too great accumulation of clothing, the skin is too much excited, and the blood is withdrawn from the internal organs, thus weakening them, while the skin itself is debilitated by the same process.

The rule of safety, is, so to cover the body, as to keep it entirely warm, but not so as to induce perspiration in any part. The perspiration induced by exercise is healthful, because it increases the appetite; but the perspiration produced by excess of clothing is debilitating. This shows the importance of adjusting beds and their covering to the season. Featherbeds are unhealthful in warm weather, because they induce perspiration; and in all cases, those, who have the care of children, should proportion their covering by night to the season of the year. Infants and children should never be so clothed, as either to feel chilly, or to induce perspiration.

The greatest trouble, in this respect, to those who have the care of children, is owing to their throwing off their covering in the night. The best guard, against such exposures, is a nightgown, of the warmest and thickest material, made like pantaloons at the lower part, and the legs long, so that they can be tied over the feet.

This makes less covering needful, and saves the child from excessive cold when it is thrown off.

The clothing ought always to be proportioned to the constitution and habits. A person of strong constitution, who takes much exercise, needs less clothing than one of delicate and sedentary habits. According to this rule, women need much thicker and warmer clothing, when they go out, than men. But how different are our customs, from what sound wisdom dictates! Women go out with thin stockings, thin shoes, and open necks, when men are protected by thick woolen hose and boots, and their whole body encased in many folds of flannel and broadcloth.

On the subject of wearing woolens next the skin, the medical profession are changing their opinions. Heretofore it has been considered important for young children and invalids to wear flannel next the skin, but now it is believed that the constant friction of the flannel tends to debilitate the skin, and that the good to be secured by wearing flannel, without this evil, is gained by having it over an under­garment of cotton. Wearing flannel next the skin, through the night, is especially injurious, and therefore the woolen night­gowns of young children and invalids should never be worn next the skin. It has often been found that persons who have suffered from rheumatism, and on this account have worn flannel next the skin, have been relieved from this disease by simply leaving off the flannel.

The best protection against sudden changes, and against the malaria of disease or bad climate, is to strengthen the skin by frequent ablutions of the whole body in cold water. All persons, by a gradual process, can accustom themselves to this, without any danger, and with immense benefits. Cold bathing should always be followed by exercise, continued until a glow is produced. It never should be taken till three hours after eating. Infants should gradually be accustomed to cold water after the second month, and all young children should be washed all over in cold water every day.

But the practice, by which females probably suffer most, is, the use of tight dresses. Much has been said against the use of corsets by ladies. But these may be worn with perfect safety, and be left off, and still injury such as they often produce, be equally felt. It is the constriction of dress, that is to be feared, and not any particular article that produces it. A frock, or a belt, may be so tight, as to be even worse than a corset, which would more equally divide the compression.

So long as it is the fashion to admire, as models of elegance, the wasp­like figures which are presented at the rooms of mantuamakers and milliners, there will be hundreds of foolish women, who will risk their lives and health to secure some resemblance to these deformities of the human frame. But it is believed, that all sensible women, when they fairly understand the evils which result from tight dressing, and learn the real model of taste and beauty for a perfect female form, will never risk their own health, or the health of their daughters, in efforts to secure one which is as much at variance with good taste, as it is with good health.

Such female figures as our print­shops present, are made, not by the hand of the Author of all grace and beauty, but by the murderous contrivances of the corsetshop; and the more a woman learns the true rules of grace and beauty for the female form, the more her taste will revolt from such ridiculous distortions. The folly of the Chinese belle, who totters on two useless deformities, is nothing, compared to that of the American belle, who impedes all the internal organs in the discharge of their functions, that she may have a slender waist.

It was shown, in the article on the bones and muscles, that exercise was indispensable to their growth and strength. If any muscles are left unemployed, they diminish in size and strength. The girding of tight dresses operates thus on the muscles of the body. If an article, like corsets, is made to hold up the body, then those muscles, which are designed for this purpose, are released from duty, and grow weak; so that, after this has been continued for some time, leaving off the unnatural support produces a feeling of weakness. Thus a person will complain of feeling so weak and unsupported, without corsets, as to be uncomfortable. This is entirely owing to the disuse of those muscles, which corsets throw out of employ.

Another effect of tight dress, is, to stop or impede the office of the lungs. Unless the chest can expand, fully, and with perfect ease, a portion of the lungs is not filled with air, and thus the full purification of the blood is prevented. This movement of the lungs, when they are fully inflated, increases the peristaltic movement of the stomach and bowels, and promotes digestion; any constriction of the waist tends to impede this important operation, and indigestion, with all its attendant evils, is often the result.

The rule of safety, in regard to the tightness of dress, is this. Every person should be dressed so loosely, that, when sitting in the posture used in sewing, reading, or study, THE LUNGS can be as fully and as easily inflated, as they are without clothing. Many a woman thinks she dresses loosely, because, when she stands up, her clothing does not confine her chest. This is not a fair test. It is in the position most used when engaged in common employments, that we are to judge of the constriction of dress. Let every woman, then, bear in mind, that, just so long as her dress and position oppose any resistance to the motion of her chest, in just such proportion her blood is unpurified, and her vital organs are debilitated.

The English ladies set our countrywomen a good example, in accommodating their dress to times and seasons. The richest and noblest among them wear warm cotton hose and thick shoes, when they walk for exercise; and would deem it vulgar to appear, as many of our ladies do, with thin hose and shoes, in damp or cold weather. Any mode of dress, not suited to the employment, the age, the season, or the means of the wearer, is in bad taste.



THE importance of cleanliness, in person and dress, can never be fully realized, by persons who are ignorant of the construction of the skin, and of the influence which its treatment has on the health of the body. Persons deficient in such knowledge, frequently sneer at what they deem the foolish and fidgety particularity of others, whose frequent ablutions and changes of clothing, exceed their own measure of importance.

The popular maxim, that "dirt is healthy," has probably arisen from the fact, that playing in the open air is very beneficial to the health of children, who thus get dirt on their persons and clothes. But it is the fresh air and exercise, and not the dirt, which promotes the health.

In a previous article, it was shown, that the lungs, bowels, kidneys, and skin, were the organs employed in throwing off those waste and noxious parts of the food not employed in nourishing the body. Of this, the skin has the largest duty to perform; throwing off, at least, twenty ounces every twenty­four hours, by means of insensible perspiration. When exercise sets the blood in quicker motion, it ministers its supplies faster, and there is consequently a greater residuum to be thrown off by the skin; and then the perspiration becomes so abundant as to be perceptible. In this state, if a sudden chill take place, the blood­vessels of the skin contract, the blood is driven from the surface, and the internal organs are taxed with a double duty. If the constitution be a strong one, these organs march on and perform the labor exacted. But if any of these organs be debilitated, the weakest one generally gives way, and some disease ensues.

One of the most frequent illustrations of this reciprocated action, is afforded by a convivial meeting in cold weather. The heat of the room, the food, and the excitement, quicken the circulation, and perspiration is evolved. When the company passes into the cold air, a sudden revulsion takes place. The increased circulation continues, for some time after; but the skin being cooled, the blood retreats, and the internal organs are obliged to perform the duties of the skin as well as their own. Then, in case the lungs are the weakest organ, the mucous secretion becomes excessive; so that it would fill up the cells, and stop the breathing, were it not for the spasmodic effort called coughing, by which this substance is thrown out. In case the nerves are the weakest part of the system, such an exposure would result in pains in the head or teeth, or in some other nervous ailment. If the muscles be the weakest part, rheumatic affections will ensue; and if the bowels or kidneys be weakest, some disorder in their functions will result.

But it is found, that the closing of the pores of the skin with other substances, tends to a similar result on the internal organs. In this situation, the skin is unable perfectly to perform its functions, and either the blood remains to a certain extent unpurified, or else the internal organs have an unnatural duty to perform. Either of these results tends to produce disease, and the gradual decay of the vital powers.

Moreover, it has been shown, that the skin has the power of absorbing into the blood particles retained on its surface. In consequence of these peculiarities, the skin of the whole body needs to be washed, every day. This process removes from the pores the matter exhaled from the blood, and also that collected from the atmosphere and other bodies. If this process be not often performed, the pores of the skin fill up with the redundant matter expelled, and being pressed, by the clothing, to the surface of the body, the skin is both interrupted in its exhaling process, and its absorbents take back into the system portions of the noxious matter. Thus the ...




In arranging yards and grounds, the house should be set back, as in the drawing of Wadsworth's cottage; and, instead of planting shade­trees in straight lines, or scattering them about, as single trees, they should be arranged in clusters, with large openings for turf, flowers, and shrubbery, which never flourish well under the shade and dropping of trees. This also secures spots of dark and cool shade, even when trees are young.

In arranging shade­trees tastefully around such a place, a large cluster might be placed on each side of the gate; another on the circular grass­plot, at the side of the house; another at a front corner; and another at a back corner. Shrubbery, along the walks, and on the circular plot, in front, and flowers close to the house, would look well. The barn, also, should have clusters of trees near it; and occasional single trees, on the lawn, would give the graceful ease and variety seen in nature.

Figure 34, represents the accommodations for securing water with the least labor. It is designed for a well or cistern under ground. The reservoir, R,, may be a half hogshead, or something larger, which may be filled once a day, from the pump, by a man. or boy.

The conductor, C, should be a lead pipe, which, in stead of going over the boiler, should be bent along behind it. From S, a branch sets off, which conducts the cold water to the sink in the kitchen, where it discharges with a cock. H,, is a conductor from the lower part of the boiler, made of copper, or some metal not melted by great heat; and at Y, a cock is placed, to draw off hot water. Then the conductor passes to the bathing­tub, where is another cock. At Z, the water is let off from the bathing­tub. By this arrangement, great quantities of hot and cold water can be used, with no labor in carrying, and with very little labor in raising it.

In case a cistern is built above ground, it can be placed as the reservoir is, and then all the labor of pumping is saved.

The privy... should have two compartments, as indispensable to healthful habits in a family. A window should be placed at 0, and a door, with springs or a weight to keep it shut, should be at V. Keeping the window open, and the door shut, will prevent any disagreeable effects in the house. At G, is the kitchen, and at F, the sink, which should have a conductor and cock from the reservoir. H, is the place for wood, where it should in Summer be stored for Winter. A bin, for coal, and also a brick receiver, for ashes, should be in this part. Every woman should use her influence to secure all these conveniences; even if it involves the sacrifice of the piazza, or "the best parlor."





Precautions and Preparations.

All the articles must be entirely free from grease or oil, and also, in most cases, from soapsuds. Make light dyes in brass, and dark ones in iron, vessels. Always wet the articles, in fair water, before dyeing. Always carefully strain the dye. If the color be too light, dry and then dip the article again. Stir the article well in the dye, lifting it up often. Remove any previous color, by boiling in suds, or, what is better, in the soda mixture used for washing.

Pink Dye. Buy a saucer of carmine, at an apothecary's. With it, you will find directions for its use. This is cheap, easy to use, and beautiful. Balm blossoms and Bergamot blossoms, with a little cream of tartar in the water, make a pretty pink.

Red Dye. Take half a pound of wheat bran, three ounces of powdered alum, and two gallons of soft water. Boil these in a brass vessel, and add an ounce of cream of tartar, and an ounce of cochineal, tied up together in a bag. Boil the mixture for fifteen minutes, then strain it, and dip the articles. Brazil wood, set with alum, makes another red dye.

Yellow Dye. Fustic, turmeric powder, saffron, barberry­bush, peach­leaves, or marigold flowers, make a yellow dye. Set the dye with alum, putting a piece the size of a large hazelnut to each quart of water.

Light Blue Dye, for silks and woollens, is made with the 'blue composition,' to be procured of the hatmakers; fifteen drops to a quart of water. Articles dipped in this, must be thoroughly rinsed. For a dark blue, boil four ounces of copperas in two gallons of water. Dip the articles in this, and then in a strong decoction of logwood, boiled and strained. Then wash them thoroughly in soapsuds.

Green Dye. First color the article yellow; and then, if it be silk or woollen, dip it in 'blue composition.' Instead of ironing, rub it with flannel, while drying.

Salmon Color is made by boiling arnotto or anotta in soapsuds.

Buff Color is made by putting one teacupful of pot ash, tied in a bag, in two gallons of hot (not boiling) water, and adding an ounce of arnotto, also in a bag, keeping it in for half an hour. First, wet the article in strong potash­water. Dry and then rinse in soapsuds. Birch bark and alum also make a buff. Black alder, set with fey, makes an orange color.

Dove and Slate Colors, of all shades, are made by boiling, in an iron vessel, a teacupful of black tea, with a teaspoonful of copperas. Dilute this, till you get the shade wanted. Purple sugar­paper, boiled, and set with alum, makes a similar color.

Brown Dye. Boil half a pound of camwood (in a bag) in two gallons of water, for fifteen minutes. Wet the articles, and boil them for a few minutes in the dye. White­walnut bark, the bark of sour sumach, or of white maple, set with alum, make a brown color.

Black Dye. Let one pound of chopped logwood remain all night in one gallon of vinegar. Then boil them, and put in a piece of copperas, as large as a hen's egg. Wet the articles in warm water, and put them in the dye, boiling and stirring them for fifteen minutes. Dry them, then wet them in warm water, and dip them again. Repeat the process, till the articles are black enough. Wash them in suds, and rinse them till the water comes off clear. Iron nails, boiled in vinegar, make a black dye, which is good for restoring rusty black silks.

Olive Color. Boil fustic and yellow­oak bark together. The more fustic, the brighter the olive; the more oak bark, the darker the shade. Set the light shade with a few drops of oil of vitriol, and the dark shade with copperas.





A comfortable couch, for chambers and sitting rooms, can be made by a common carpenter, at a small expense. Have a frame made ([see figure]) of common stuff, six feet long, twenty-eight inches wide, and twelve inches high. It must be made thus low, because the casters and coushions will raise it several inches. Have the sloping side-piece, a, and head-piece b sawed out of a board; nail brown linen on them, and stuff them with soft hay or hair. Let these be screwed to the frame, and covered with furniture patch. Then let slats be nailed across the bottom, as at c, c, four inches apart. This will cost two or three dollars. Then make a thick cushion, of hay or straw, with side strips, like a mattress, and lay this for the under-cushion. To put over this, make a thinner cushion, of hair, cover it with furniture-calico, and fasten to it a valance reaching to the floor. Then make two square pillows, and cover them with calico, like the rest. Both the cushions should be stitched through like mattresses.

The writer has seen a couch of this kind, in a common parlor, which cost less than eight dollars, was much admired, and was a constant comfort to the feeble mother, as well as many other members of the family.

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