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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Cult of Domesticity
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Cult of Domesticity
Text 1. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
Text 2. Caroline Gilman
Text 3. Catharine E. Beecher
Text 4. Harriet Jacobs
Text 5. Fanny Fern
» Reading Guide
•  Link

Text 6. Godey's Lady's Book
Text 7. Rev. Theodore Parker
Text 8. Elizabeth Cady Stanton

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
5.  Fanny Fern (Sara Payton Willis Parton), Fern Leaves from Fanny's Portfolio, 1853

Vignettes written for the Boston True Flag, the New York Musical World and Times, and other periodicals, these pieces lure the reader with their witty style into the waiting fangs of Sara Parton, who bemoans the condition of American womanhood at midcentury. The predicaments of woman in all her roles—wife, bride, mother, mother-in-law, spinster, widow,—are illuminated in these short pieces that range from mournful tragedy to bristly satire. "I've a perfect horror of satirical women," announces one of her male characters. "There's no such thing as repose in their presence." Prepare to enter the presence of Fanny Fern. Especially useful to contrast with the fiction in Godey's Lady's Book. Would definitely appeal to students. Titles range from 1/2 - 2 pages.

Read 3-5 of these recommended "Leaves" (118 total in Portfolio):

"Look on This Picture . . . ," p. 16
"Comfort to the Widow," p. 47
"How Husbands May Rule," p. 116
"Woman," p. 133
"The Passionate Father," p. 135
"The Ball-room and the Nursery," p. 141
"A Chapter on Literary Women," p. 175
"Children's Rights," p. 188
   "Sorrow's Teachings," p. 192
"A Word to Mothers," p. 234
"The Model Step-Mother," p. 301
"Advice to Ladies," p. 317
"A Little Bunker Hill," p. 346
"Important for Married Men," p. 352
"Aunt Hetty on Matrimony," p. 377

Discussion questions
  ·  How does Parton view the situation of white women in mid-nineteenth-century America?
  ·  How does she view the situation of children, both girls and boys?
  ·  What earns Parton's wrath in these pieces?
  ·  How does Parton's view of Christian faith, especially as a source of strength to women, contrast with the views of Catharine Beecher and Elizabeth Cady Stanton?
  ·  In one vignette, a character bemoans that women are fools and men idiots. What do women do that is foolish? What do men do that is idiotic?
  ·  Overall, what is Parton's message to women? What should they change, and what must they accept?
  ·  How would Parton characterize the "cult of domesticity" of the 19th century?
  ·  Would Parton join Elizabeth Cady Stanton in political activism?

Reading highlights
  ·  Parton cloaks her numerous pieces on death—involving orphans, new widows, and mothers who have lost children—with compassionate advice. Consider reading one of these "Leaves" ("Comfort for the Widow," "Sorrow's Teachings").
  ·  In "A Little Bunker Hill," Parton directly addresses the issue of women's rights.

» Link

Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did women of this period define themselves? What stories did they choose to tell?
  •  In what ways did these women exercise—and define—power and influence?
  •  How did the “cult of domesticity” shape the debate over woman’s place in antebellum American society?
  •  In what ways did this debate reflect the prevailing tensions of race, class, region, and religion in American society?

Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

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