Women’s History Month, Part 18: Frances Harriet Whipple Green McDougall (1805-1878)

In the middle of last year, we acquired a book called The Housekeeper’s Book, published in 1837. [Side note: the full title is The Housekeeper’s book : comprising advice on the conduct of household affairs in general ; and particular directions for the preservation of furniture, bedding, etc. ; and for the laying in and preserving of provisions, with a complete collection of receipts for economical domestic cookery, the whole carefully prepared for the use of American housekeepers and the title in our catalog is The Housekeeper’s book:…with a complete collection of receipts for economical domestic cookery, the whole carefully prepared for the use of American housekeepers. So, actually finding this volume and information about it can be a bit tricky, depending on how it’s referenced.] At the time, I sent it on to cataloging, without too much thought. In October of 2016, it popped up on my radar in conjunction with an instruction session I was putting together on antebellum women & cookery. This time, the “By a lady” on the title page caught my attention and, of course, required investigation. When I found out, I wanted to post about it right away, but decided it would be better saved for Women’s History Month, because this was one interesting lady (more on her in a moment–I have to build some suspense)!

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The Housekeeper’s Guide was, as far as I can tell, was only published in two editions: one in 1837 and another in 1838. These days, about 24 libraries or so have print copies on their shelves (but it has also been digitized here). It is very much what it sounds like from its extensive subtitle–a household management guide and cookbook. From the preface:

The plan of the present work is so fully set forth in the title page that little is left to be said by the author in any way of preface. It may, however, be proper to remark, that the work has been founded on the results of actual experience, and is intended for every day use; that the receipts, directions, and general advice have all been prepared with strict view to utility, and true economy; and that nothing has been omitted which the author deemed subservient to the general design–the promotion of domestic happiness by attention to the constantly recurring and inevitable duties of good housekeeping.

Intended for middle- and upper-class ladies, and, in some ways, probably for those in their employ, the book has a natural progression: household duties, managing servants, cooking techniques, LOTS of recipes (including homemade cordials and cooking for invalids), flowers, preservation of furnishings, washing, and the ever-common miscellany. A bit out of place, though, it ends with directions for “jointing, trussing, and carving” (with intriguing instructions like “Cod’s Head” and “Half a Calf’s Head.” I guess that gets to the economy aspect of cooking–use everything!

So, just who was the lady behind this semi-obscure household guide that didn’t see the success or continued reprinting of some other similar books of the time? Frances Harriet Whipple Green McDougall. With a name that long, I felt there had to be story here and I wasn’t wrong. First off, The Housekeeper’s Book was never published under her actual name and it was her only domestic-related book…sort of.

She published her other works as Frances H. Green, since she didn’t marry Wiliam C. McDougall until 1860 and most of her writing was done prior to that. But we’re jumping ahead! Frances Harriet Whipple was born in Rhode Island in 1805. By the time she was in her 20s, she was publishing poetry and began her first brief editorial efforts (the Original), which include her own short writings. By 1830, her writing shifted to reformation efforts, as over her life, McDougall would became an activist for/supporter of temperance, labor, abolition, and spiritualism. Her works would be published in newspapers, serials, books, and other projects edited mostly by others, but also by herself.

In 1842, she married her first husband, an artist named Charles Green. After their divorce in 1847, she developed an interest in spiritualism and over the next decade or so, she would write for spiritualism publications and individual tracts. She was also an avid botanist and botany teacher, publishing an illustrated text, The Primary Class-Book of Botany in 1856, which was later expanded and republished with a co-author years later. Around 1860, she moved to California where she met and married William C. McDougall, a California assemblyman-turned-miner and the brother of the state’s second governor, John McDougall. The two remained married until her death in 1878.

Interestingly, there is a published biography of McDougall (O’Dowd, Sarah C. A Rhode Island Original: Frances Harriet Whipple Green McDougall. University Press of New England. 2004.) and she does have a Wikipedia page, but among the most helpful of resources was a brief biography of her on the web, created by a faculty member at the Community College of Rhode Island (which is where I got most of my information above!)

Although–or perhaps because–her works are so varied, it’s hard to come up with a single bibliography.  Her major works include:

  • The Housekeeper’s Book (1838)
  • Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge (1838)
  • Elleanor’s Second Book (1842), both books were the social conditions of African-Americans in the 19th century
  • Might and Right (1844), in defense of the suffrage movement and political upheavals in Rhode Island
  • The Primary Class-Book of Botany (1856)
  • Shahmah in Pursuit of Freedom: or, The Branded Hand (1858), was an attack on slavery through the narrative of a foreign prince from African visiting the United States
  • Beyond the Veil (1878), published posthumously

Her list of individually published poems, articles, tracts, and other pieces is, of course, much longer, as is her list of editorial roles over the years. While she may not have been particularly influential in the culinary world, it’s clear her influence was felt in other places. And her fascinating life story was one I simply had to share!

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