Worcester Women's History Project

BROTHER JONATHAN'S WIFE: A Lecture

[Editorial Note: John Neal was one of the most celebrated novelists of the first half of the nineteenth century as well as publisher and editor of Brother Jonathan, a popular magazine of the 1840s known for providing "the Cheapest Reading in the World." The name "Brother Jonathan" stood for the archetypical American as John Bull stood for his English equivalent. Sometime in the 1850s the figure of Uncle Sam appeared, dressed like Brother Jonathan in a red, white, and blue outfit but with a beard and without the feather in his cap which Brother Jonathan (himself a variant of Yankee Doodle) usually sported. Thomas Nast, who did more than anyone to popularize the figure of Uncle Sam, also did many drawings featuring Brother Jonathan. One in 1871 showed Brother Jonathan and John Bull shaking hands, symbolizing an "Anglo-Saxon" reconciliation.

Neal's prominence and literary reputation make his essay on the ideal American woman worth reading. Here one can find, in pristine form, some of the ideas about woman's nature and duties, her sphere in a word, that woman's rights advocates most sought to discredit.]

BROTHER JONATHAN'S WIFE: A Lecture
, by a retired editor [John Neal] (Philadelphia, 1842) as excerpted.

["What will not Woman, when she loves?" Eternal disgrace to him, who would betray her confidence, or endanger her honor. --mottoes on both cover and title page]

P.9: We hold up to the whole world, the faithful and loving helpmate of Brother Jonathan, as a model for every female to study, who seeks to attain to the position of wife. They may learn thereby, that to be qualified for so important and interesting a sphere of action, something more is necessary to be learned than to know how to make puddings and tea! Ignorance may decry female accomplishments, may prate about feminine retirement, about her sphere being limited to the household circle, and all that. But who will listen to such execrable nonsense? Is there any thing harsh or unfeeling, or unmatronly, or unfeminine, in being well-informed? The soul of woman is a bright emanation from the great fountain of spirit. Why then should she paper it up as carefully as if it were made of silver lace, and the breath of heaven would tarnish it? Nothing softens female delicacy so much as knowledge. Does knowledge make men indifferent husbands? Why then should it make women poor wives? Talk not to us of the blessings of ignorance. Feminine ignorance leads to scandal--to backbiting. If she knows nothing about things, [P. 10] she must talk about persons; if she cannot converse, she must gossip. If she is ignorant, she will thunder with her tongue, "and every one knows, and some by unhappy experience, what a dreadful plague a woman's scolding tongue is."

Cleanliness, neatness, frugality, and order, are also traits of character belonging to the subject we have chosen, and deserve special attention. It must be confessed, that these are all of great importance in the habits of a wife, mother and mistress of a family; and for the want of which, no literary attainments, however profound and extensive, can be a substitute. To mental improvement, the wife should unite a correct knowledge of household affairs. She who is to preside over a family should be most intimately acquainted with every thing that can preserve order or promote comfort.

P.11: She is the very personification of goodness and forgiveness, breathes the very atmosphere of love, and in her mouth is the law of kindness. She clings fondly for protection and support, to the man of her choice, and scatters sunshine in the pathway of his existence. Possessing a fine nervous system, and bright intellect, she is capacitated for the highest pleasure, which, if moderately enjoyed, is to woman what the sun is to the flowers: It beautifies, it refreshes and improves. But if immoderately enjoyed, it withers, desolates and destroys. Chastened pleasure calls forth all the sensibilities of her susceptible nature, and is as necessary to the full development of her charms, as the shade and the shower are to the lily; confirming its beauty and increasing its fragrance. It is her privilege to enjoy; it is the grand principle of her nature;--when the golden fruit is within reach, it is natural to pluck and eat. For the purpose of enjoyment, heaven has made her the most beautiful and susceptible being that exists. Her society charms--her person fascinates--to her we owe the sweetest enjoyments of life. Beauty woos to her embrace, and will find a ready response in every manly heart. She is indeed a creature to be adored--the most faithful of wives, and the fondest of mothers. She sweetens the charms of home, and is the pearl that enriches and adorns the social hearth. Religion is her panoply, and no one who wishes her happiness and who appreciates her virtue, would weaken their best security.

P.13: Unlike most of her sex, whether civilized or savage, throughout the globe, she is as free and independent as the wild winds of heaven. She is her own mistress-- no body's slave. The periods of courtship and marriage, those blissful moments of existence, the sunniest and sweetest hours that shine upon the pathway of life, she can call her own. In herself is invested the right of disposing of herself.

P.14: The unalienable rights of woman are enjoyed by a very inconsiderable portion of the human race. Even among the polished and enlightened nations of Europe, she is greatly restricted in her just privileges. In no other country on the face of the globe, are her rights so well guarded by law, and so much respected by the unanimous voice of the people, as this. The customs of our country give to woman a freedom of communication with the opposite sex, by which she is enabled not only to become acquainted with their mental and moral qualifications in the main, but to study well their characters and dispositions in all their various ramifications. This is a desideratum of the utmost importance, a great privilege, especially before entering into the most interesting contract of human society [i.e., marriage]. It is important to woman in all the varied grades of association and relation, with which she may be connected with the other sex, in the minor as well as in the major points, that she know those well, with whom business or inclination, brings her in contact. Here she enjoys a community of rights and interests with man--she is his equal--she can do as she pleases, and every body knows that nothing can be more gratifying to the feelings of a woman, than to be able to do what she has a mind to! Here she is universally beloved and esteemed, and treated with the kindness due to her character and feelings as a woman, and the respect due to the interesting and exalted position she sustains, as the female representative of a powerful and independent nation. Here she is a free woman!

P. 15: We may as well own to it as not--she governs us! Not indeed by physical force, but by the power of affection. She holds the empire of the heart, and throughout its extended and before untrodden dominions, ranges with queenly step, and reigns alone and peerless. The influence she exerts as wife, mother, daughter, sister, relative, friend, companion, and instructress, is immeasurably great. . . . When she chooses to step into the empire of letters, the sparkling scintillations of her vivid pen, fairly eclipse the sleepy, monotonous lucubrations of her sterner counterpart.


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