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[Developed by Karen Board Moran with the support of the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund Teacher Fellowship at American Antiquarian Society, Summer 1997 and with suggestions and comments by 1997-8 Eight Grade Blue Team at Auburn Middle School]

Introduction: This lesson is an example of how primary source document analysis can be used to connect to students' lives to the past while enhancing their critical thinking and writing skills.

A complimentary English class assignment could be used to teach each other some of the new vocabulary words they discovered. Every student commented on the long words.



Background introduction (5 minutes)

Dr. William Andrus Alcott (1798-1859) spoke the afternoon of 24 October 1850 at the First National Woman's Rights Convention held in Worcester, MA. According to President Paulina Wright Davis in the PROCEEDINGS, he "introduced his views of the necessity of a better physical education for women, and dwelt on its importance very earnestly." Alcott had just published A YOUNG WOMAN'S BOOK OF HEALTH and was the respected author of THE YOUNG MAN'S GUIDE and THE YOUNG WOMAN'S GUIDE. Since no transcriptions of the debates were taken, historians must rely on newspaper coverage of the event.

Did the NEW YORK HERALD approve of the convention? How did it feel about Alcott's health message?

The NEW YORK HERALD reported on October 26 that Dr. Alcott, "proceeded to bring in the aid of medical science to the vindication [defense] of the sex. Her physical training, under the present state of society, enfeebled [weakened] all her energies. With the same unrestricted privilege of exercise, and with the same enjoyments of mental education as man, her mind and body would be brought to its proper vigorous, beautiful, and healthy organization. The doctor's argument, altogether, was the most rational of the whole concern, and was only irrational and ridiculous in being mixed up with the rant, cant, and rubbish of socialism and infidelity of this lunatic asylum."

STRETCH: What other newspaper reports about Alcott's speech can you find on the WWHP website? What is their position on the convention and Alcott's message?

[Hint: Look at news reports for particular days and use the FIND feature on the browser to hunt for Alcott. Since FIND may work differently even on different versions of the same browser, you may need to ask for assistance.]

Alcott was born in Wolcott, VT and lived in Massachusetts at the time of the convention. At 52 years of age, he was a well-known advocate of dietary reform like the Graham diet and other "alternative" medical therapies such as hydrotherapy ("water cure") and phrenology. He said his guides were written for young people "twelve or fourteen to eighteen or twenty years of age and to those, in general, who are single." (WOMAN'S, 21) Let's analyze them to see if they would still be meaningful to teens today?

GROUP WORK: 2 of each gender with gender appropriate GUIDE and dictionary to share with partner.

Task 1 (15 minutes)

What evidence can you find just on the title page that shows how popular Alcott's guides were in 1850?

 Young Woman's Guide:

Lithograph 1
Lithograph 2

 Young Man's Guide:


Study the lithographs facing the title page: What message is conveyed to the boys? What message is conveyed to the girls?

Are these the same images teens are given today as to the role they should play in our society?

Task 2 (20 minutes) [Teacher should clarify the meaning of "domestic." ]

Read the chapter titles only in the Table of Contents for your gender with a partner of the same gender. Use a dictionary to understand the unfamiliar words and write the definitions in your notebook.

What topics does your guide feel are important for young people to know?

When you have read all the chapter titles, compare your guide to that of the opposite gender to determine if males and females were expected to have the same roles in American society.

Do both guides cover the same topics? Do both guides, for example, have a copy of the U. S. Constitution?


HOMEWORK Part 1: Select an image for the covers of TODAY'S YOUNG MAN'S and WOMAN'S GUIDES. You may cut it out of a newspaper or magazine or draw one.

HOMEWORK Part 2: Bring in an example of, or be able to describe, a guide for young people today. Is it a book or another medium? Be ready to share it with the class.



GROUP WORK: 3-4 of same gender each with own copy of appropriate GUIDE and dictionaries.
[Teacher note: MAN'S has 8 chapters and Constitution and WOMAN'S has 32 shorter chapters]

Task 1 (25 minutes)

Have each student divide a paper into 4 sections and label as shown. Teacher should explain each category, pointing out that names of role models and books will be capitalized. Take turns putting up the images they selected for the covers of today's guides on the appropriate bulletin boards while completing this assignment. Divide the chapters among the members of group


Work independently or with a partner to complete the chart for assigned chapters. When all are finished, compare findings and choose 2-3 sayings your group would put in a guide book for today's teenagers.

Reflection (15 minutes)

Discuss how the students' covers on the bulletin boards differ from those of 1850.

Share their rules to live by. These could be written on a paper staple on the board as well.

How many role models were Greeks, Romans, or famous Americans?

Share the funny comment about Ben Franklin running away.

Has anyone read any of the recommended books?

Mentally walk back in your family to find which ancestor would follow these GUIDES. If 25 years is a generation, there's you-- parent -- grandparent -- great grandparent -- great, great grand parent -- and, in 1850, your great, great, great grandparent.

Investigate the GUIDE excerpts on the website.

Write a paragraph explaining which chapters were most meaningful to you personally. GUIDES should be returned with paragraph for credit to save paper although several of my students asked to keep their copies.



Go around the room sharing students' examples of their guides to prepare for adulthood.

My classes suggested: health and family living class; parents; friends; billboards; after school program; newspaper columns; school counselors; magazines from Seventeen to Trail Bike; a wide variety of books and movies; music; Bible; ministers; talk shows; hot lines; school handbook. Teacher has opportunity to lead discussion towards specific article topics, role models and messages. Students loved this activity and several commented they sought out new sources.


Were boys and girls treated equally in 1850? Support your answer with 3 specific examples.

Are boys and girls treated equally today? Explain how today's rules for behavior support your answer.



Alcott, William A. THE YOUNG MAN'S GUIDE. Boston: T.R. Marvin, 1846. (16th edition)

--------------------- THE YOUNG WOMAN'S BOOK OF HEALTH. Boston: Tappan, Whittemore and Mason, 1850.

-------------------- THE YOUNG WOMAN'S GUIDE. Boston: Waite, Pierce & Company, 1845. (9th edition)