Image found on Smithsonian Libraries webstie, http://www.sil.si.edu/ondisplay/making-homemaker/intro.htm
Over the past few days, I have written about Catharine Beecher, who promoted the subversive, rather revolutionary idea that women could change the moral values and behavior of America through the motherly values of teaching, nurturing, and loving. The one hurdle to this revolution was that women’s role was not recognized by men as being important and crucial.
As I worked on the Saint Maggie series and stories related to it, I used Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, mainly as I searched for recipes and food the family would be likely to eat. But my “spidey sense” (can you have a spidey sense about a character you created?) tells me that Maggie also has read Beecher’s Principles of Domestic Science and A Treatise on Domestic Economy. Or, perhaps, she absorbed Miss Beecher’s lessons because I have learned about them. Either idea works.
From the age of 19, when Maggie married John Blaine, and throughout her life as a widow with a boarding house, Maggie has always lived the “classic” role of housekeeper and mother. True, her boarding house is a business but, let’s be honest, Maggie has a soft heart and her boarders have little in the way of money, so she is lucky if her books balance.
Her vocational focus, then, has been on raising her daughters to be moral and intelligent young women and to run a loving but efficient household.
Maggie is a Christian of the Methodist variety and that also shapes how she lives. However, it is important to note that she has taken a revolutionary approach to her morality. She privileges Jesus’ words above all other words in the Bible and lives by what she calls “the law of love.” She comes to this belief at camp meeting. After being terribly upset with the nasty criticism laid on her by her brother Samuel. Maggie runs to a field – away from all the others – where she has what is a moment of clarity at least and a moment of comfort from the Almighty at most. (It’s up to the reader which it is.) Nonetheless, she comes to this conclusion:
God’s only rule was love and so long as she acted out of charity – out of love – she was doing what Christ wanted. Granted, sometimes what Christ desired was far different from what social custom demanded, but she did not need to take on the burden of other people’s criticism. She could stand up as a free woman with Christ’s yoke – light and easy – on her neck. (Saint Maggie, 73-74.)
So, I believe that Maggie falls solidly into Beecher’s camp: she is based in a “traditional” mothering mode and has a morality-based religion (although I do feel that she believes firmly that conversion is a God-ward change of heart or attitude and this change makes godly decisions and behaviors possible).
Then there’s her relationship with Eli, her husband. Eli is a free-thinking, former Quaker, who enjoys a shot of whiskey now and then. (Okay, he clearly throws back a bit too much at his wedding celebration and one night in Walk by Faith, with Carson, Patrick, and Edgar.) Logically, Maggie and Eli should not get along, let alone get married. But – especially in the world of character development – their relationship works because of that difference, and also because they respect each other.
Eli sees his wife’s interest in writing and presses her to pursue it by authoring articles for his penny-press, The Gazette and later for Tryphena Moore’s paper, The Register. Maggie also edits materials written by the Register staff. She continues to grow in this area in Seeing the Elephant. And now in The Good Community, my work-in-progress, Eli discovers that his wife has decided to put on paper the story of her experience in Gettysburg. She even asks if he might consider printing it in the newspaper as a series. So her story is not a private record of her life, as her journal is, but is intended for public consumption and education.
The Good Community also finds Maggie getting involved in in starting a school for black children, since they have been excluded from the town’s school. At this point, I feel she will take an administrative role, rather than a teaching one (which will be done by her sister-in-law Abigail Beatty, young friend Rosa Hamilton, and Emily Johnson).
Despite this, I don’t see Maggie interested in “traditionally” male occupations. Her work as an aspiring author/journalist and with the new school is solidly within Catharine Beecher’s notion of the power of female suasion. In Beecher’s view, women who are teachers (whether in a school or home setting or in print), women who are nurses, and women who nurture are exercising their power to shape the morals and behavior of the nation. In this regard, all women may be regarded as mothers, and motherhood is a powerful profession. It is, as Beecher would have it, the most important profession
Therefore, Maggie is solidly “Beecherian” with regard to her own life.
Ah, but her daughters…that’s another story.
And that is the where Maggie’s influence is both subversive and revolutionary.
Check out next Monday’s Squeaking Blog!