Case 2 of 3: Useful Leisure

In 1856 Catharine Beecher advised her readers to "have some regular plan for employment of your time, and in this plan have a chief reference to making home pleasant to your husband and children." At that time the expectations of female domesticity had changed considerably from those of the eighteenth century. Leisure had become an integral part of nineteenth-century culture as advances of the industrial age influenced American lifestyle. Families began to move to urban centers, where men found work outside the home and women maintained household affairs with greater convenience. The average urban housewife often supervised one or more domestic servants and could purchase many of the necessities that earlier generations labored to produce within the home. She often used the hours remaining after completion of domestic duties for ornamental needlework, reading, social calls, and charity work.

Useful leisure became a predominant theme of nineteenth-century literature for both adults and children. Activity books for young boys included games of skill and lessons in a variety of sciences, while books for girls provided needlework patterns, poems, and fictional tales promoting female domesticity. For young adult and older audiences, anecdotal literature offered moral direction for a variety of circumstances. These sketches often included characters who defeated the odds through industry and moral fortitude. Periodicals promoted useful leisure by incorporating needlework patterns with fashion and home décor advice into pages previously dominated by poetry and short stories. Instructional texts focusing on domestic economy were popular as well. These manuals provided recipes, medical advice, basic needlework instruction, gardening tips, and lessons in home economy for the frugal housewife.