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Separated by Their SexWomen in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World$

Mary Beth Norton

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801449499

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801449499.001.0001

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Consolidating the Feminine Private

Consolidating the Feminine Private

Chapter:
(p.144) Chapter 5 Consolidating the Feminine Private
Source:
Separated by Their Sex
Author(s):

Mary Beth Norton

Publisher:
Cornell University Press
DOI:10.7591/cornell/9780801449499.003.0006

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines how the idea of the feminine private was consolidated in the first half of the eighteenth century on both sides of the Anglo-American Atlantic. Benjamin Franklin made his first foray into publishing in an April 1722 issue of the New-England Courant in the guise of Silence Dogood, the widow of a rural clergyman. When Franklin decided to become an older, single woman canvassing others' failings, he adopted a pose of rhetorical femininity. Subsequent colonial writers were to make a similar choice. Whether or not those authors were in fact female, the topics and contents of their essays reveal much about the developing notion of the feminine private. This chapter considers how Anglo-American men defined a feminized private sphere and how women developed its meaning. It also discusses tea drinking as a practice among colonial women and how women created an important component of the developing feminine private sphere, a virtual space for themselves that was more important than the actual spaces they could occasionally craft in their houses or around tea tables.

Keywords:   private sphere, Benjamin Franklin, New-England Courant, rhetorical femininity, men, women, tea drinking, houses, tea tables

The sixteen-year-old Benjamin Franklin entered the world of publishing in an April 1722 issue of the New-England Courant in the guise of Silence Dogood, the widow of a rural clergyman.1 Informing her readers that before her marriage she had been the ward of her older husband, Silence explained that the clergyman “endeavour’d that I might be instructed in all that Knowledge and Learning which is necessary for our Sex, and deny’d me no Accomplishment that could possibly be attained in a Country Place.” Widowed after seven years of marriage during which she bore three children, Silence described herself as “an Enemy to Vice, and a Friend to Vertue,” revealing that she had “anatural Inclination to observe and reprove the Faults of others.”2

When Franklin decided to become an older, single woman canvassing others’ failings, he adopted a pose of rhetorical femininity. Subsequent colonial writers were to make a similar choice. Whether or not those authors were in fact female, the topics and contents of their essays reveal much about the developing notion of the feminine private, which was consolidated in the first half of the eighteenth century on both sides of the Anglo-American Atlantic. Authors who presented themselves to the public using female pseudonyms typically wrote about a restricted range of subjects and adopted a limited set of approaches to their topics. They thereby underscored the validity of the (p.145) observation of the anonymous Englishman who penned the 1737 Common Sense essay on women’s role: it was “bounded and circumscrib’d,” whereas men’s realm was “universal, and comprehends every Thing.”3

But perhaps because Franklin wrote before the outline of the appropriate feminine private sphere was complete or perhaps simply because he was a male teenager of outstanding ability, Silence Dogood addressed topics that, in the long run, would prove to be unusual for a nominally female author. Indeed, Silence herself acknowledged receiving criticism of an essay in which she charged that Harvard students graduated “as great Blockheads as ever, only more proud and self-conceited.” A correspondent objected not to the content of the critique, but rather to Silence’s boldness in addressing the topic at all. “Ephraim Censorious” contended, she reported, that she should “censure the Vices and Follies of my own Sex, before I venture to meddle with yours.” Specifically, Ephraim advised Silence to “let Female Idleness, Ignorance and Folly (which are Vices more peculiar to your Sex than to our’s) be the Subject of your Satyrs, but more especially Female Pride, which I think is intollerable.” Whether a reader or Franklin himself produced the purported communication is irrelevant, because it emphasized one of the key conventions of rhetorical femininity: female writers should focus their attention primarily on women.4

In response, Silence challenged Ephraim’s assertions and argued that men were more idle, ignorant, and proud than women. Yet her next essay dealt with female pride, and two others focused on widows and on an old maid seeking a husband—in other words, on topics more obviously aligned with Silence’s feminine identity. Although publicly questioning Ephraim’s strictures, in short, Franklin complied with his request to take a more conventional approach in some of the Dogood essays.5

In so doing he followed a practice set by Richard Steele in the Tatler, one not adopted earlier by John Dunton. The Athenian Society never presented its membership other than as all-male, but Steele created “Jenny Distaff,” Isaac Bickerstaff’s much younger half-sister, to be a rhetorically feminine commentator on her sex.6 Jenny’s inclusion in Tatler essays in 1709 presaged the further elaboration of the convention later in the century, but with respect to what became the standard language of the feminine private, Steele and his writing partner, Joseph Addison, were less prescient. They failed to employ private as a gendered word despite their oft-stated insistence that women had no place in the exclusively masculine public realm. The two influential authors wrote women out of the public, in brief, but did not create a gendered definition of private. That task was left to their successors in England and America.

(p.146) Once Anglo-American men had defined a feminized private realm, women developed its meaning. Others have examined the contours of domestic ideology in England;7 in this chapter the primary focus is the North American colonies. Not only in rhetorically feminine writings (some of which can be definitively attributed to women), but also in their actions, colonial women elaborated on the feminine sphere even as it was being consolidated. Whereas men equated the feminine private with the domestic and the household, women’s own definition expanded to include relationships with their female friends. Large families composed of men, women, children, and male and female servants crammed into small eighteenth-century houses made the notion of a specifically feminine private domestic sphere more metaphorical than real. But within those same houses colonial women could and did create feminine spaces, most notably in and around that quintessential place for domestic socializing, the tea table. Both men and women recognized that the tea table was a feminine location, one that women dominated and controlled even when men were present. Accordingly, although households in general were only theoretically feminine, women’s creation of tea-table society constituted their own contribution to the construction of the feminine private.

The Emerging Language of the Feminine Private

John Dunton’s adoption of the language of the feminine private, initially formulated in 1702 in the context of his commentary on Queen Anne, was ignored by his immediate successors as cultural commentators, Richard Steele and Joseph Addison. Neither man employed the word private in the gendered way invented by Dunton. Insistent that women had no place in the public realm, they nevertheless failed to complete the binary by assigning private to the female sex. Instead, it took approximately four decades after Dunton published Petticoat-Government for the now-familiar dichotomy equating public and men, private and women, to develop fully on both sides of the Anglo-American Atlantic.

In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, English and American authors alike commonly contrasted public and private, but in ungendered ways. In such traditional usages, the word private carried the implication of the individual apart from the whole, of a subject that was or should be concealed rather than generally open to view, of a person or an act not authorized by government, or—most notably in this context—of someone who did not hold political office or of an institution that had no formal relationship with the government. The ungendered usages would persist, but the last (p.147) two would over time give birth to the gendered feminine private. Once the public was successfully defined as solely masculine, even a high-status woman could not be classified as an appropriate state actor with political responsibilities. After the adoption of Lockean thought caused the family and the state to be seen as disparate rather than analogous, private was utilized to modify family with greater frequency. And since women were identified culturally with the family and domesticity, the consequence was the development of the feminine private.8

Demonstrating the absence of a concept is always difficult, but a promising possibility is to seek places where an idea or a term most likely would have been employed had it been available to an author or speaker. One such location is a 1712 Spectator essay by Richard Steele, which used public but not private when discussing women:

We have indeed carryed womens Characters too much into publick Life, and you shall see them now A-days affect a sort of Fame: But I cannot help venturing to disoblige them for their service, by telling them, that the utmost of a Woman’s Character is contained in Domestick Life; she is Blameable or Praise-worthy according as her carriage affects the House of her Father or her Husband.

Here Steele employed the classic meaning of public as widely known, as was evident from his reference to “asort of Fame,” and he logically could have used private to denote the hidden, household-based opposite of that statement, but he did not. Even someone as committed as he to notions of sexual difference did not have the gendered language of public and private to draw on in 1712 as he discussed women’s lives. A contemporary example on the other side of the Atlantic came from a funeral sermon the Reverend Increase Mather delivered in 1711 for a judge and his wife, who died a few days apart. Mather described the husband’s role “in his Publick Capacity,” using the meaning for public that applied the term to an officeholder with responsibilities to the people. Although he also described the childless wife’s activities (for example, showing “Mercy and Charity” to the poor), he did not employ the word private with reference to her.9

The same absence was evident in a quotation cited earlier, although at first glance it might not appear so. When Joseph Addison wrote in 1711, “the Family is the proper Province for Private Women to Shine in,” he was not equating private and domestic; in the context of a passage denigrating female partisanship, private referred to someone who had at most a limited and disinterested public role. In effect, he was observing that women should devote (p.148) themselves wholeheartedly to their families because they had no formal civic responsibilities. Employing the word in a like manner in 1729, a Philadelphia essayist referred to “many People of both Sexes in their private Capacities.” Such remarks show that the standard terminology of public and private had not by then acquired gendered meanings.10

That dichotomy did have other implications, with the latter half of the public/private opposition developing a negative inflection, as “Publick good” was contrasted—in one clergyman’s words—to “private selfish views.” The usage was pervasive in the colonies during the first half of the eighteenth century. A New England cleric exhorted his congregation not to advance their own “little private narrow Interests only.” A New Yorker warned against political leaders who might “prostitute their Power to their own private Avarice or Ambition.” Such rhetoric that universally contrasted public and private in a political or monetary context consistently favored public over private and saw the latter as selfish, little, narrow, avaricious, and so forth—implications that would carry over into the public/private divide once it became fully gendered. Men could have the interests of the whole society at heart whereas women’s concerns came to be seen as little or narrow, contrary to such community interests. Thus the English authors of the 1737 and 1739 Common Sense essays could write readily of “the narrow Limits of Domestick Offices” or “that little Circle of Action” to which women were rightly confined.11

The absence of a gendered public/private language did not mean that early-eighteenth-century Anglo-Americans lacked concepts of sexual difference. Quite the contrary: such ideas permeated the Tatler and Spectator. Addison and Steele presupposed the existence of separate but nominally equal male and female “Natures.” Steele, who believed that “there is a Sort of Sex in Souls,” insisted that “the Soul of a Man and that of a Woman are made very unlike, according to the Employments for which they are designed.” For women, that was “manag[ing] well a great Family”; for men, “execut[ing] a great Employment.” Although Steele also indicated that it would be “Partiality” to rank masculine virtue above feminine and asserted that men’s minds were “not superior” to women’s, he persistently denigrated women while seeming to defer to them. For example, the true nature of his praise for women’s “easy Flow of Words” became obvious when his exemplar of feminine talk, “Lady Courtly,” earned his acclaim for speaking of fashion “with so excellent an Air and Gesture, that you would have sworn she had learn’d her Action from our Demosthenes.” The exaggerated tribute made clear his ultimate disdain, since Steele frequently criticized as frivolous and insignificant women’s purported focus on fashion and dress in their conversation.12

(p.149) Addison and Steele in the Spectator continued the pattern of gender-differentiated commentary established in the Tatler. In a July 1711 Spectator essay, for instance, Addison discoursed at length on the sexes’ “different Inclinations and Endowments.” Women were naturally “much more gay and joyous than Men,” perhaps because “their Fibres [were] more delicate, and their animal Spirits more light and volatile.” Women accordingly needed to seek out men who would “moderate and counter-ballance” that natural volatility. Addison concluded that the best marriages were those in which the husband bore “the main Burden” and the wife employed “all the little Arts of soothing and Blandishment” given her by nature to “chear and animate her Companion.” In his vision of the ideal couple, “the Wife grows Wise by the Discourses of the Husband, and the Husband good-humoured by the Conversations of the Wife.” Such a balanced marriage, he declared, was “like a Ship that is duly trimmed,” needing “neither Sail nor Ballast.”13

Thus despite the absence of a rhetoric invoking the gendered opposition public/private, Addison and Steele conveyed to their Anglo-American reading audience an understanding of deep and abiding differences between men’s and women’s natures. Colonists could access such cultural commentary in the 1720s and thereafter not only in Tatler and Spectator, but also in their weekly newspapers. The New-England Courant’s successors in American journalism tended to copy James Franklin’s paper rather than its more mundane predecessors. They prominently published didactic essays, many of them deliberate imitations of Addison and Steele, along with such bread-and-butter items as local shipping news, advertisements, and the latest “advices from London.” Desperate for attractive literary content, editors throughout the colonies opened their pages to contributions of a variety of sorts, printing works by local authors, essays originally published elsewhere in the American press, and articles from British newspapers and magazines, sometimes properly attributed, sometimes not, and sometimes reportedly forwarded by their readers. The editors all drew on the same pool of publications and information, which led to a remarkable similarity of theme and content in colonial papers generally. The time lag in colonists’ usage of current locutions evident in Mistress Knight’s 1704 journal dissipated as American editors quickly republished British material and the language of those essays was copied by local writers. Except in unusual circumstances—such as those that enveloped John Peter Zenger in New York in 1734–35—editors did not take sides in local controversies, for they could not afford to alienate any paying customers. In fact, they seem to have published all submissions they regarded as being in good taste. In 1740 and thereafter, largely because of the (p.150) onset of war with Spain, printers began to emphasize political and military news and opinion, and so the papers included fewer cultural analyses.14

Before 1740, though, the newspapers’ literary aspirations and the absence of other outlets for such commentary, along with the editors’ eclectic choices of material, make their pages an unparalleled source for the ideas circulating among literate colonists and accessible to elite and non-elite Americans alike. Although most colonial newspapers printed no more than six hundred to seven hundred copies of each issue, they had a wide readership. The newspapers were read and discussed in coffeehouses and taverns and passed from hand to hand and household to household, exposing many Americans to a wider world of ideas than had been available to them before the early 1720s. For people whose previous reading would have been largely confined to the Bible, devotional literature, almanacs, and perhaps a conduct book, the essays in the newspapers must have provided revelatory openings to new ways of thinking, in addition to informing them about developments in Europe and elsewhere in America. Aside from the newspapers, colonists would have encountered cultural and moral commentary only in some scattered pamphlets—many originally published in England—and a few locally produced publications such as funeral sermons.15

Unlike the Athenian Mercury, the Tatler, and the Spectator, the editors of colonial American newspapers aimed their works at a largely male audience, even though—on the rare occasions they addressed their “fair readers” directly—they acknowledged that women also sometimes perused the papers. Articles about women rarely appeared on the printed page, and topics assumed to be of interest primarily to women (such as child rearing and household management) were largely absent. Instead, editors produced their newspapers for wealthy or middling men, the voters and property owners dominating the colonies’ polities and economies. The worldview of such men, reflected in the papers, presupposed the natural superiority of genteel white Protestant men, the necessity of maintaining order in state and household, the importance of protecting private property, and the need to be industrious, frugal, honest, and pious.16

Why, it might be asked, were eighteenth-century Britain and America so different in publishers’ assessments of their audiences? Surely a key explanation was the editors’ accurate assumption that adult colonial women in the 1720s and 1730s were less likely than men either to be literate or to purchase newspapers for their own use. Further, despite the ubiquity of didactic and satirical essays in colonial newspapers, their chief attraction for purchasers must have been the supply of recent political and commercial news from Britain and the European continent. The papers gained their currency from (p.151) useful information that could not be obtained from local knowledge. That no American magazine (a format limited to cultural commentary) survived more than a year or two before the 1780s supports the conclusion that merchants and professional men with utilitarian goals largely composed the actual as well as the presumed reading audiences for American periodicals.17

Colonial newspapers joined the Tatler and Spectator in the beliefs that men and women differed fundamentally, and that men were superior. Indeed, those beliefs were so unquestioned by the 1720s that they were rarely stated explicitly. Instead, assumptions of sexual difference and male superiority permeated essays on disparate topics. One author in the New-England Weekly Journal in 1729 laid out the common way of thinking in an article on women that nominally proclaimed them superior to men because of their natural beauty but that otherwise judged women wanting. He praised “the superiour Greatness of Mens Souls” and men’s “greater Strength of Imagination and Memory,” as well as their superior ability to concentrate. Such qualities allowed men to “assert our Dominion at all Times,” except when they were in the throes of love. Although he averred that he had placed men as “Supream in the Throne of Reason and Fancy … principally to obviate the Charge of Partiality [to women],” the thrust of his argument ran counter to that claim.18

The same was true of the well-known pamphlet Reflections on Courtship and Marriage, published in America by Benjamin Franklin in 1746. Although the author insisted at the outset that women’s perceived deficiencies resulted from their inadequate upbringing rather than their inherent nature, the rest of the text assumed innate feminine inferiority. Women lacked “the requisite Fund of substantial Worth to raise the Thought, and touch the Heart; to be an agreeable Companion, and a steady Friend,” he declared, alluding to their “little narrow-spirited Way of Thinking,” their “low and pitiful Artifices,” and their “lurking Sort of Cunning.” Admitting that he assumed male superiority in “Knowledge and Understanding,” he insisted that men therefore had “adirecting Power in the more difficult and important Affairs of Life.” In an ideal “harmonious” marriage, the writer argued, the husband knew how to control his wife without appearing to do so, and women had to recognize that men “are best capable of directing and judging in the important Concerns.”19

Many newspapers conveyed messages of gender differentiation, even if they avoided obvious references to sexual superiority and inferiority. A male/female binary, in short, undergirded published colonial discourse about women and men in the early decades of the eighteenth century.20 As time passed, that male/female binary was increasingly linked to the roles of men (p.152) and women outside and inside the home, and to the new meanings of the long-standing conceptual binary public/private. A careful examination of the evolution of Anglo-Americans’ usage of language in the middle decades of the eighteenth century reveals the trend.

On both sides of the Atlantic in the early 1730s, novel phraseology began to emerge in essays on political and familial topics alike—“Private Life,” “private Family”—and those terms became linked to domestic and household. “Meanwell’s” discussion of patriotism, published in the New-York Gazette in 1734, observed that “in publick” men talked of patriotism in the same way as “in private Life … a Master of a Family harangue[s] in Praise of Oeconomy”; in both cases, he remarked, “Saying and doing are two Things.” By 1737, the anonymous author who penned the Common Sense essays on affectation could write that women “should content themselves with the private Care and Oeconomy of their Families, and the diligent Discharge of Domestick Duties.” For him, private modified care and oeconomy, which both he and “Meanwell” used in its traditional sense as “the art or science of household management, esp. with regard to expenditure.” By the late 1730s, private thus was linked to family and domestic in a way it had not been for Addison and Steele in the early 1710s.21

When in 1739 a British author (perhaps the same one who wrote the 1737 comments just quoted) declared that “women risque too much to go out of that little Circle of Action to which Decency has confined them,” he contrasted men’s freedom with women’s necessary restriction to the household. A woman’s “true Eclat is a private Life,” he insisted, “and the Oeconomy of a Family her solid Glory.” Such language soon became commonplace, as did the explicit opposition between men’s roles in public and women’s in private. Thus that same year the author of Man Superior to Woman voiced the public = government-and-men, private = household-and-women equation when he wrote, “Those poor pretty Creatures must make a very sorry Figure in Government and publick Offices, who appear so universally unqualified for the Administration of private Oeconomy.”22

In the following decade, the phraseology began to appear regularly in the colonies. One poet, describing himself as a “Constant Reader and Humble Servant,” wrote in 1745 of a woman who “adorns each State of private Life!/A Daughter, Mother, and what’s more—a Wife,” then went on to describe how that wife, “far from the busy thoughtless World retir’d,” and “unconcern’d, can view the Pomp of State/And how Men strive, and bustle to be great.” Private life for women was thus delineated by the successive roles of daughter, wife, and mother; and that private life was explicitly conceptualized as “retired” from the world, “unconcerned” with politics, and separated (p.153) from the busier, bustling world of male strivers, a world in which women were observers rather than participants.23

Three years later, a reader submitted an article to the South Carolina Gazette titled “Offences against Common Sense in the Ladies, particularly Wives,” which, like Joseph Addison, warned women against “deviat[ing] into Politicks, or begin[ning] to redden with Party Rage” and proscribed additional topics of conversation. He then described his ideal wife in terms that readers a century later would have found congenial: “Her Life is a just Mixture of domestick Care and innocent Diversion. In the former, she is indefatigably busied in embellishing private Life, and bringing him, whose Felicity is her chief Aim, to look upon her company, and his own Home, a sure Assylum from the Noise, Fatigues, and Crosses of the World.”24

By the late 1740s, therefore, the transition to a novel way of thinking about the relationship of male/female and public/private had been completed on both sides of the Atlantic. Images eventually associated with the nineteenth-century cult of domesticity—the household as a quiet haven from a busy world, the wife as the tireless manager caring for her husband’s needs and wants—had entered the Anglo-American lexicon. As the term private life came to be newly equated with family and household, the role women traditionally played in that household came to be deemed private, a word never previously connected to women in a gendered fashion. The negative implications of private interests (as opposed to public good) coalesced with notions of the narrow limits of women’s sphere, as distinguished from men’s broader public responsibilities. A newly constructed variant of the long-standing binary opposition public/private, which also had many other guises, was thus mapped onto the male/female binary. The resulting gendered dichotomy had immense staying power and lasting consequences for men and women alike.

The Pose of Rhetorical Femininity

When colonial editors assumed their audience was wholly male, they marginalized females as both readers and contributors. How most colonial women responded to newspaper essays that adopted a uniformly male perspective is unknown. But one female Philadelphian, “C.W.,” recorded her reaction to presumptions of universal masculinity in a 1736 commentary in the American Weekly Mercury that began: “Tho’ I am of the Female Sex, yet I am a Constant Reader of News-Papers.” C.W. clearly understood that the Mercury’s editor would see her as unusual in the amount of attention she paid to the press. And surely he found the contents of her essay to be equally unusual.25

(p.154) C.W. explained that she was submitting her essay in response to an article that had appeared not in the Mercury but in its competitor, Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette. The author of the Gazette’s recent piece on the character of a good man and the benefits of a social conscience, C.W. complained, had erred in his choice of words. She objected to his repeated references to men’s need to aid their “FELLOW-MEN,” which omitted “the Assistance of WOMEN.” She recommended instead employing the term “MANKIND, which comprehends both Sexes.” She concluded that the use of “fellow men” was “agreat Indignity done to the FEMALE SEX, obliquely reflecting upon them as Creatures not fit to have a Place or Name amongst MANKIND,—which seems to be a very great Contempt to the Divine Wisdom, who thought fit to Place them on the same Level.”

C.W., then, perceived the masculine-inflected language of the article in the Gazette as insulting in its omission of women. Her interpretation of the anonymous author’s terminology was undoubtedly correct; he had, for example, said of his ideal man that “agenerous Ambition glows in his Breast of being a publick and extensive Blessing to the World,” the sort of statement never contemporaneously applied to a woman. Even if she reached an incorrect conclusion, however, her essay highlighted the common exclusion of women from the rhetoric of colonial newspapers. And it showed that at least one eighteenth-century American woman regarded that exclusion as “agreat Indignity.”

Presumably C.W. accepted the notion that politics and the public realm were “out of women’s sphere,” so—if she chose to read such pieces—articles addressing public policy questions that assumed an exclusively male readership would not have offended her to the same extent as the Gazette essay on desirable personal characteristics and the importance of social interactions. But what about a series of articles in a Boston paper in 1728 that discussed the management of household expenses without ever mentioning the role of the wife and mother in such “oeconomy”? Or the many essays that dealt with themes of courtship and marriage solely from a male point of view, by offering suggestions for choosing a wife but neglecting criteria for selecting a husband? Or ubiquitous biting satires about women? The consistently misogynistic views expressed in the newspapers surely had an impact on women other than C.W.26

Whereas Dunton’s Athenian Mercury celebrated its female readers and welcomed contributions from women by its publicly stated attention to women’s concerns, colonial newspapers conveyed the opposite message through their overwhelmingly male-oriented content. Yet, even so, some rhetorically feminine authors ventured to contribute essays to the press. (p.155) Analysis of such articles—and of the published reactions to them—helps to reveal the boundaries of the newly consolidated feminine private sphere, whether or not the works were actually written by women. Recognizing what a nominal woman could, and could not, say publicly in print adds depth to the understanding of the gender definitions established in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. That the barriers between male and female were rigid and unyielding became dramatically evident in an exchange of letters in the South Carolina Gazette in early 1732. Even before the adoption of the gendered language of public and private, the dialogue revealed the existence of a rigidly constructed male/female binary.27

“Martia,” describing herself as a young woman of sixteen who had been raised by “agood Father,” responded to the editor’s request for correspondence from readers by offering observations on some of her male contemporaries, including her own brother.28 She commented on “aset of young Gentlemen … whose Concerns in Life particularly require a steady and judicious Conduct” in business transactions and personal behavior. Certainly, she asserted, such conduct was “the very corner Stone of their Building” for anyone who wanted to succeed in the mercantile field. Yet the young men, she charged, displayed too much “Levity” in conversation, which potentially could detract from the “Credit” needed to cultivate their reputations. She hastened to add that she was “amerry Girl” and did not object to “mirth and well-tim’d Humour,” but she nevertheless insisted that some of the exchanges the young men viewed as witty could instead have the effect of damaging their good names. She had tried giving them “private Hints” to alter their language, but without success, and so she chose to admonish them publicly in hopes of reforming their behavior.

Martia admitted that her warning perhaps “comes awkwardly from a Female Pen,” but she expressed the hope that her identity as a young woman would deflect “too severe Reparties” from those she criticized, for she believed that “none can be so impolite, as to Attack Youth and Beauty in Petticoats, with such improper Weapons.” Martia thus tried to use her feminine identity as a shield, but the ploy did not work. Assuming that Martia actually was the young woman she claimed to be—which seems likely, although it is impossible to discover her identity—the “Reparties” she received in response gave her a quick and telling lesson in the rules of rhetorical femininity.

In the Gazette’s next issue, “Rattle” replied not to Martia but rather to “Miss Martia’s Papa,” a unique insult. His daughter was quite a “forward Lass,” Rattle exclaimed, and she needed to concern herself primarily with her own reputation, rather than the young merchants’ social standing. A good name was the “Corner-stone in the Fabrick of the Fair,” and once lost, it was (p.156) gone forever. Likening Martia’s reputation also to a building and making an unambiguous, innuendo-laced comment, Rattle declared that “once broke down … it must be an uncommon Structure that, after a successful Attack, stands whole and tight, beyond Nine [months] at most.” Instead of venturing to critique the young men, Martia would do better to learn “the making of a Pudding” like any “good Housewife.” Rattle predicted that her father would find it hard to locate someone to marry the unmanageable young woman.29

In her reply Martia showed that she was shocked by the vehemence of Rattle’s reaction, despite the concern already evident in her defensive comments about the impoliteness of any attack on “Youth and Beauty in Petticoats.” Martia revealed that she had burned two other letters forwarded to her by the Gazette’s editor, intending to prevent their publication. Claiming that Rattle had misconstrued her meaning, she declared that she would never repay her father’s careful upbringing with “the Guilt of personal Scandal,” thus demonstrating that she had no difficulty interpreting Rattle’s innuendo. She insisted that Rattle was “not worth my Notice,” yet she apologized for the fault she deemed “imaginary.” Asking forgiveness from anyone she had offended, she expressed the wish that “the Example, in this particular, may be of more Force, than the well meant Precepts of Martia.” The apology, then, was Martia’s legacy, rather than the initial letter daring to criticize her male contemporaries in print. And she would try in the future to avoid giving the least hint of similar behavior.30

The replies to Silence Dogood from Ephraim Censorious and to Martia from Rattle highlighted the restrictive conventions of rhetorical femininity, as did the essayists’ responses to their critics. Authors who adopted female personas to submit articles to colonial newspapers could address only a limited range of topics, and when they strayed outside such boundaries they encountered stiff opposition. Rattle’s attack on Martia far outdid Ephraim Censorious in its highly charged condemnation of Martia’s criticism of the youthful Charleston merchants. By analogizing her contribution to the Gazette to engaging in illicit sex and by contending that her writing made her a less desirable marriage partner, Rattle dramatically turned the tables on Martia. She, not the young men, became the issue; and she, shamed, quickly retreated into silence. Other rhetorically feminine authors never ventured such gambits in the colonial press. Instead, they confined their remarks to subjects thought relevant to women, including courtship, marriage, and household affairs. They, like C.W., also penned responses to published statements they perceived as misogynistic.31

Although nearly all editors adopted apolitical stances to avoid antagonizing potential male readers, they appeared unconcerned about alienating (p.157) their possible female audience. Remarkably few articles presented a rhetorically feminine viewpoint, even though some authors constructed artificial male-female dialogues intended to amuse readers. The relative paucity of submissions from nominal women almost certainly derived from two related factors: the restricted subject matter allowed to such essayists (why under most circumstances would a man choose to write as a woman, when selecting a male pseudonym would give him a much wider field to analyze?); and women’s hesitancy to enter publicly a realm implicitly defined as exclusively male. Only when a woman had a strong motive—for example, responding to an insulting essay—would she make such a move.32

Contributions to colonial newspapers from rhetorical women fell into two broad categories: essays that introduced a subject relevant to women, and those that replied to negative characterizations of “the fair sex.” Of the first group, some—almost all of English origin—were overtly satirical, including supposed petitions from groups of single women criticizing “old bachelors” who resisted marriage, or from “Ladies of Quality” who objected to Sunday observances that prevented them from attending card games, plays, and other diversions.33 Some rhetorical women focused on critiquing their own (nominal) sex, just as Ephraim Censorious had advised Silence Dogood to do.34 Other essays, a few evidently drafted locally, offered complaints of various sorts about personal relationships with men. Authors employing female pseudonyms expressed grievances about wastrel or unfaithful husbands, “bashful” or unappealing suitors, or treacherous seducers.35 Even though such pieces criticized men, unlike Martia they did so in a customary context. They did not attack men for their behavior in the company of other men, as she had, but rather accused them of abusing women. Such charges could legitimately originate with women.

Two poems of English origin in which women protested their lot proved popular with colonial printers and their readers. “The Lady’s Complaint,” which came from a play first performed in London in 1700, declared, in part:

  • Men to new Joys and Conquests fly,
  •    And yet no Hazard run,
  • Poor we are left, if we deny,
  •    And if we yield, undone.
  • Then equal Laws let Custom find,
  •    And neither Sex oppress,
  • More Freedom give to Womankind,
  •    Or give to Mankind less.

(p.158) Another, which originally appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1733, began:

  • How wretched is a Woman’s Fate,
  •    No happy Change her Fortune knows,
  • Subject to Man in every State.
  •    How can she then be free from Woes?36

Both poems elicited verse responses that challenged their premises: to the first, a South Carolina man insisted that all the author needed was “some dear, simple, homely Swain” to ease her mind; to the second, “aGentleman” countered,

  • How happy is a Woman’s Fate,
  • Free from Care, and free from woe,
  • Secure of Man in ev’ry State,
  • Her Guardian-God below!”

The seemingly radical critiques of women’s lives in the newspapers, in short, were quickly offset by replies that would have pleased a culturally conservative audience of male readers. The ultimate message was comforting, not disquieting, and nothing in the press would have shaken colonial men’s complacency about the correctness of their relationships with women. Like similar prose pieces, such poetic exchanges were amusing rather than challenging.37

Yet a nominally feminine viewpoint could also create an opening for pointed remarks on matters of public concern. Just as the rhetorical femininity of New York “widows” made possible the clever attack on William and Grace Cosby’s 1734 hospitality campaign, so too that stance proved fruitful for a critic of the Great Awakening revivals during the following decade. Because the Reverend George Whitefield attracted so many female followers, letters from a rhetorical woman provided an ingenious means of censuring him.

One “Deborah Sherman” twice addressed Thomas Fleet, editor of the Boston Evening Post and an opponent of the revival, asking Fleet to “be fair, and print [articles] on both Sides” regarding the controversial preacher. Deborah’s letters, though, were astute parodies that underscored how women’s enthusiasm for Whitefield wreaked havoc in their households. In the first, she insisted that women were Whitefield’s “best Friends, if they fall off all is gone.” When St. Paul told women to “keep at home, and mind their (p.159) Families,” she averred, surely he “did not mean this when dear Mr. Whitefield preach’d.” Even if Paul had meant to proscribe such devotion, she exclaimed, women would go anywhere to hear Whitefield, even possibly following him back to his Georgia base. Her second letter, welcoming Whitefield’s return to Boston after some months away, overflowed with yet more praise. “O, how tedious have been the hours of your Absence!” she gushed; “how dull all the Preaching I have heard!” How she envied the women to whom he had been speaking in the interim! “Methoughts I saw you, as we us’d to do here, leaving Husbands, Children, Family Concerns, and all the vain Cares of life, and crowding after the dear, the heavenly Man, listning to the charming Musick of his Tongue, and drinking in the melodious Sounds.” The letters’ subtext was unmistakable: Whitefield endangered the maintenance of household order. Left unchecked, he would entice wives away from their duties and threaten ordinary men’s control of their families.38

Religious leadership, the topic of the Deborah Sherman correspondence, was commonly regarded as “beyond woman’s sphere.”39 Yet the picture those letters drew of neglected households abandoned by mistresses who had been lured away by a silver-tongued orator placed the subject firmly within the usual constructs of rhetorical femininity. The adroit lampoons made the author’s point subtly, but with humor and more force than a direct approach.

One subject discussed by rhetorical women raised no questions of suitability—and that was women themselves. The ability of women to reply to published observations on their sex was never publicly called into question. Most of the essays that appeared under women’s names in the colonial press dealt with three popular topics that regularly aroused comment in newspaper columns: fashion, tea drinking, and courtship or marriage.

For instance, an article titled “aGeneral Review of Female Fashions Address’d to the Ladies,” which was published in two different papers in the early 1730s, elicited a response from “Betty Pert,” who, instead of defending such items of clothing as hoop petticoats, declared that if men wanted to criticize women they should “show us the Example first, and reform your dress.” She made fun of men’s wigs; and whereas the essayist had accused women of wearing “masculine” clothing, she charged men with “effeminacy” in their own dress. In short, Betty made it clear that two could play at the game of accusing the other sex of cross-dressing. At the same time, she implicitly confirmed the existence of rigid contemporary gender boundaries.40

Confronted with criticisms of women’s penchant for drinking tea, authors assuming the guise of rhetorical femininity replied by defending the healthfulness of tea and by contending that men’s habit of drinking alcohol was far more damaging to individuals and society. Many an exchange on (p.160) the topic appeared more contrived than real, presented (as one editor put it) “in hopes it [might] prove diverting” to readers. Take, for example, the letter from “Amy Prudent” in the American Weekly Mercury in 1729. Amy, claiming to speak for the twenty wives of members of a punch-drinking men’s club, complained of their habits; the men responded by attacking “the noxious streams of that Paralytick Herb, [which] create Disorders in the Brain and Nerves.” Two years later in New York, “Suckey Goodtaste” rejected any deprecation of “such pleasant and delightful Amusements” and insisted that “if you would complain against Drink, let it be against such Liquor whose spiritous Fumes intoxicate the Brain.” Undoubtedly these humorous charges and countercharges indeed amused colonial newspapers’ readership.41

In contrast to the dialogues on tea (or punch) drinking, published interactions on courtship and marriage appear more genuine and highly charged. In early 1731, the Philadelphian Elizabeth Magawlay, writing as “Generosa” in the American Weekly Mercury, challenged the “groundless” charge that most women preferred “Fools and Coxcombs” to men of character and intelligence. Magawlay insisted that only “Coquets and Romps” liked coxcombs, asserting that “Women of Sense” instead favored men of their own caliber. They toyed with “Fops and Fools” only from “meer Necessity,” because most men failed to recognize the value of conversing with intelligent women. She thus turned the critic’s comments back on himself: any fault lay with men, who lacked the “Courage” to deal with women who were not “their imaginary Goddesses.”42

Another woman—“Andromache”—responded with a similarly heated letter in 1737 when the Virginia Gazette reprinted a variant of Benjamin Franklin’s “Rules and Maxims for Promoting Matrimonial Happiness,” which had originally appeared in Franklin’s own Pennsylvania Gazette in 1730. Franklin’s “maxims” included admonitions to women not to manipulate their suitors or husbands; to remember that their husbands were men, not angels; and to avoid arguing with their spouses. “Study his Temper, regulate your own, … sooth his Cares, and by no Means disclose his Imperfections. … Read often the Matrimonial Service, and overlook not the Important Word OBEY,” Franklin advised, recommending that women always wear their wedding rings and look at them frequently to remind themselves of their duties.43

Andromache’s commentary revealed that she regarded the “maxims” as “animadversions on the FAIR SEX.” She thought it “hard” that women “should be attacked with a Weapon we are unacquainted with (I mean the Pen),” and she insisted that every woman understood her duties without looking at her wedding ring. Sarcastically exclaiming that the author’s “Genius” (p.161) was so superior to Addison and Steele’s that their essays would now be deemed “trifling,” Andromache offered an adroit riposte: the author had in effect admitted that women “have the greater Share of Sense” because he believed that they could readily manipulate their husbands. She suggested that the author should admonish other men, “for I don’t doubt but the Coxcomb, the Indolent, and the Sloven, may be met with among his, as well as the Cockquett, the Gossip, and the Slattern, may be found among our Sex.” Her maxim, she declared, was that “agood Husband makes a good Wife,” and that “where the Head is furnish’d with Prudence, the other Part of the Body can’t fail of being happy.” Accordingly she, like Generosa a few years earlier, defended women not only by rejecting critical comments but also by turning the arguments around to offer a negative appraisal of men. If good husbands produced good wives, then a poor wife should not be blamed for her evident failings: her husband bore the ultimate responsibility for those.44

Contributions to the press like Andromache’s, though serious and seemingly deeply felt, nonetheless fell into the pattern of the amusing and frequently artificial exchanges on such topics as fashion and tea drinking. Critiques of coxcombs and coquettes were common and often exaggerated for effect; regular newspaper readers would have seen many of them over the years. Why only a few of those elicited a response is unknown and unknowable, except in the case of the dialogues contrived by James Franklin and other printers such as his brother Benjamin. Similarly, why some offensive essays—such as one from 1730 that advised men to choose a wife who was “tame” and “helpless” and “thinks herself overpaid by any little Return of Kindness from her Master”—did not provoke published reactions is equally mysterious. However stylized and erratic, though, the exchanges on women in the colonial press helped to produce the cultural construction of the eighteenth-century feminine private and to outline the perceived parameters of women’s lives.45

Those dialogues made it clear that women should confine their attention to the narrow range of topics and concerns defined as feminine in nature: personal relationships with friends and family, household affairs, and the consumption of certain gendered items like women’s clothing and tea. If other subjects could be made relevant to that limited list (as George Whitefield’s appeal to women became a cautionary tale about neglected family responsibilities), then public commentary from women would pass unnoticed. But venturing onto men’s turf without such a justification was forbidden, as Martia learned when she dared to publicly chastise a group of young Charleston merchants for their levity. Any topic seen as beyond woman’s sphere, not just politics, was off limits in public discourse.

(p.162) Creating a Space for the Feminine Private

The first houses in seventeenth-century America were small and simple, with just one or two rooms on the ground floor and a “chamber” or two above, under the roof.46 Colonists, logically enough, tended to construct homes that resembled those in the disparate regions from which they had emigrated, and by the end of the century local American variants had begun to emerge. Specific forms varied from place to place along the Atlantic coast, but all resembled each other in limited size and the basic arrangement of rooms. Even though by the mid-eighteenth century some colonists acquired considerable wealth, the finest American homes never matched their British counterparts in dimensions or opulence.

In such small colonial houses, women’s and men’s lives intermingled of necessity. Sometimes the master and mistress slept on a bed (with or without curtains) in the same room used for cooking and eating, which was known as the hall. Young children and servants might sleep on trundle beds nearby or in the chambers overhead. The second room, usually termed the parlor, was also a possible site for the best bed, along with whatever better furniture or other items for display the family might possess. In homes with two ground-floor rooms, the parlor served as the location for more formal socializing and for some family privacy while servants, slaves, or laborers worked in the hall. Such houses continued to be built and inhabited throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but in the late seventeenth century and thereafter some colonists expanded their homes, adding rooms on both the first and second floors.47

In that process in New England, kitchens were moved to lean-tos at the back of the house. Alternatively, the hall might become more or less exclusively a kitchen, thus separating cooking activities and smells from a space devoted to other work and socializing, and partially dividing men’s and women’s work spaces. That development occurred even more dramatically in the Chesapeake, where kitchens migrated to new, small buildings located some distance from the main house. The move helped to prevent the dangers of fire as well as rendering the house cooler in the heat of southern summers, but it also notably relocated a major work space inhabited primarily by female subordinates, at the same time as enslaved people of African descent were replacing English indentured servants on Chesapeake farms.

By the early eighteenth century up and down the American Atlantic seaboard, larger houses with four or more ground-floor rooms (each often with a chamber above) began to be constructed in towns and some rural areas as well. Many such homes had central or side hallways, so that residents could access (p.163)

Consolidating the Feminine Private

Figure 5.1. Schematic plans of British-American houses in the mid-Atlantic region, eighteenth century. The introduction of stair hallways allowed for a wide variety of arrangements and rooms with specialized uses. Kitchens and other service areas might have been placed in wings, separate buildings, cellars, or the rooms located away from spaces used for formal entertaining. The layout of rooms on the second level (“chambers”) most often mimicked that of the floor below.

From Bernard L. Herman, Architecture and Rural Life in Central Delaware, 1700–1900 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987), 27. Courtesy of Bernard L. Herman.

rooms in the rear of the building without going through those in the front. Yet not all these rooms were used year-round. The central hallway served in the Chesapeake as an open passageway for cooling breezes during the summers. Such hallways were increasingly inhabited as hot-weather living spaces by southern gentry families. Concomitantly, in cold weather New Englanders congregated in just a few rooms so they would not have to maintain fires throughout the house.

(p.164) As the number of rooms expanded, their functions became more differentiated. Wealthy or learned men, for example, acquired offices or studies. The bedroom of the master and mistress became only that instead of a room with multiple purposes; it was used primarily for sleeping or possibly for entertaining intimate friends. Socializing in larger groups occurred in rooms designed specifically with that end in mind.48 Yet except for the kitchen, which would have been largely off-limits to men other than male servants or slaves engaging in heavy labor of some sort, few or none of these homes contained spaces exclusively for women’s use. Accordingly, although Anglo-American culture by the 1740s defined the household as feminine and private, in actuality it was neither. The mistress of a household shared her bedroom with her husband; and daughters would have shared bedrooms with each other, perhaps with their brothers while the children were young. Then, too, living spaces changed in function because of seasonal crowding in northern winters or southern summers. Only in widowhood or if she did not marry would a woman have a space she could regard as hers alone.49

One pious wife in Newport, Rhode Island, Sarah Haggar Osborn, found a solution to this problem. In 1767, she reported to a friend that after her husband rose in the morning, she proceeded “to Make my bed my closet, curtains drawd Except Just to Let in Light. I do not Lie there but turn upon my knees my stomach soported with bolster and Pillows, and I am thus securd from the inclemency of all Seasons and from all interruptions from family affairs. There I read and write almost Every thing of a religious Nature.”50

The word closet referred to small, private spaces used by colonial women or men for quiet reflection and writing, and other eighteenth-century women possibly used curtained beds in the same way. If women had an available room, or if—like Sarah Osborn—they were able to improvise such spaces, they would have had places to retreat from their busy households. But even if they could not find solitude, colonial women could create a private space for themselves and their friends around that feminized object, the tea table.51

Tea was first introduced to England on a large scale after Charles II’s 1662 marriage to Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese princess who brought Bombay as part of her dowry. The beverage became fashionable, but tea was not linked culturally to women for several decades. As early as the 1690s, though, Englishwomen began meeting to drink tea around six o’clock in the evening, at the same time their menfolk were conducting business in coffeehouses. In the early eighteenth century, the trope of tea-drinking women at home was employed in literature and art to balance the image of coffee- or ale-drinking men at coffeehouses or taverns. References to women’s tea-table conversations filled the Spectator. By the early 1720s, satires on tea-drinking (p.165) themes appeared in American newspapers. Still, it was not until the 1730s that the rise of direct trade between England and India increased the supply of tea significantly. The previously high price of tea dropped, making the beverage affordable for all, rather than just the wealthy. By 1747, one elite New Englander was complaining that even “Maids and Washer-Women follow this polite Custom, and every common Jilt treats with Tea.”52

Drinking tea involved far more than simply making and imbibing a hot, stimulating beverage. Doing so properly required not only a kettle to heat the water, a pot to brew the tea, and the tea itself (with a canister for storage), but also the appropriate utensils. A full tea service included containers for sugar and milk or cream, sugar tongs, perhaps a tea strainer, a slop bowl (into which the dregs of a cup could be poured before a fresh cup was served), and of course the cups and saucers themselves. Fashionable teacups had no handles and were referred to as “dishes”—thus, one drank a dish of tea. Teapots and sugar bowls could be silver or ceramic; blue and white porcelain seems to have been especially popular. The tea equipage could sit on a tea board placed on another, larger table or, preferably, on the iconic round or rectangular tea table. Clearly, not every woman who served tea to her friends, especially those who lived in ordinary small houses, had all that equipment.53

Still, probate inventories and similar records demonstrate that the emphasis on tea drinking in the American press by the 1730s was not misplaced. The 1720s were the crucial decade marking the appearance in colonial inventories of new tableware at all economic levels—knives, forks, and glassware in addition to tea equipment, which implies increased use of the home for socializing over food and drink. In rural Massachusetts and Connecticut alike, tea boards and tea tables first appeared in lists of decedents’ property in the 1730s, followed later by teapots and storage devices such as chests and canisters.54

Various contemporary sources attest to American women’s love of drinking tea. In 1748, a foreign traveler commented that tea “is drunk here in the morning and afternoon, especially by women, and is so common at present that there is hardly a farmer’s wife or a poor woman who does not drink tea in the morning.” Women’s diaries recounted numerous meetings with female friends for tea, and surely many men who traveled to England brought tea back as a gift for their wives. Women expected tea to be served using the appropriate utensils and ingredients. One New Englander, eating breakfast at a house where she was lodging for a few nights, later described to her sister the inadequate service: “alarge Square pine table some Bohea tea on it, Sugar Near the Colour of Mollasses, the Water Boil’d in a porridge pot & laded out, pewter spoons the Colour of led.” Clearly, she regarded everything about that experience as wrong, except perhaps the Bohea tea itself: a large, rough, (p.166) square table and brown (rather than white) sugar, along with the absence of a kettle, teapot, and silver spoons, added up to an experience that was decidedly déclassé. That she wrote that description nearly six weeks after the breakfast in question suggests how inappropriate—and noteworthy—she had found it to be.55

So in the 1780s, when loyalist refugee women presented claims to a British commission established to compensate them for property confiscated by the rebels, they recounted the loss of such obviously beloved objects as “1 compleat set blue and white Tea and Table China”; “aSilver Tea Pot, Sugar Bason”; “Mahogany Dining Tables, Tea Tables”; and “1 Japan Tea Board.” The wife of a baker from Charleston, South Carolina, lost a set of tea china and several tables on which she might have used it; a carpenter’s wife from Manhattan lost two brass kettles, eighteen cups and saucers, and a silver milk pot; even a poor farming household listed losses of two “puter Basons” and “1 tea pot.” Among the most extensive claims for tea-related items came from the widow of a wealthy landowner who had lived near Saratoga, New York; she told the commission she had lost a large mahogany tea table with mahogany chairs, a full set of china, four tea trays, and “One large Tea Urn Silver top and Mahogany stand.” She would have entertained a great many acquaintances had she used all those possessions at once.56

When the Philadelphian Hannah Callender married Sammy Sansom in 1762 and they moved into their new home, Hannah recorded in her diary that she placed the mahogany tea table in the front parlor. In so doing she mimicked the choice of most of her contemporaries, judging by probate inventories that listed items room by room and by other descriptions of the placement of tea tables. Even when the term parlor was not employed by estate appraisers, being replaced by “lower room” and the like, the descriptions of the furniture and other objects in the rooms with tea tables made it clear that those rooms were, for the most part, designed for entertaining. The inventories also indicate that tea equipage commonly sat out on the tables. Thus, for example, the 1750s appraisal of the estate of Samuel White of Brookline, Massachusetts, showed, in the “East lower room,” a tea table, kettle, teapot, and cups and saucers, along with a mirror, two other tables, and twelve chairs. Some inventories placed tea tables in rooms (on lower or upper floors) that also contained beds. Presumably, women entertained only their closest female friends in such contexts.57

Tea tables themselves were often quite small, and a proper tea service would take up much of the surface area. The hostess would sit in a chair somewhat offset from the table and serve her guests individually from the tea equipage prominently displayed there for all to admire. With the hostess (p.167) thus occupying that dominant position, the visitors would sit or stand in various locations around the room. The person pouring the tea (slowly and carefully, so as not to shatter the fragile porcelain cups with hot liquid) was not always the oldest woman of the house; it might be her daughter, or, in the case of a postwedding ritual described in 1753 by Grace Growden Galloway, it might be a female friend. Galloway, who decried the “ceremonious farse” she was obligated to observe in Philadelphia, informed her sister that after her wedding she had to stay home for a month to receive female guests every afternoon. She had to wear a white satin gown and behave with great formality at all times. Meanwhile, the maid of honor from her wedding came each day “to make Tea & entertain the company & after Tea to put Up large peices of Cake in white paper which is handed to every Lady after Tea.” After the month was over, Grace would “by the Laws of Politness” return the visits, and her ordeal—for she saw it as such—would at last be finished.58

Regardless of where they placed their tea tables or how they served the tea, women would surely have agreed with “Fidelia” (Hannah Griffits), a Philadelphia poet, who at some time in the mid-eighteenth century penned the following lines on tea “extempore”:

  • Blest Leaf whose aromatic Gales dispence,
  • To Men, Politeness, & to Ladies Sense
  • Gay Wit, Good-Nature, circulate with thee,
  • Doctors & Misers, only rail at Tea.

Griffits’s poem decried tea’s critics and praised not only the “Blest Leaf” with “aromatic Gales” itself, but also the “Gay Wit” and “Good-Nature” the drink promoted—the “Sense” it brought to women, the “Politeness” it brought to men fortunate enough to be included in the sociability of the tea table. Yet first and foremost, the tea table was women’s private space, and as such it was celebrated (by women) and satirized (by men).59

Male wits attacked the tea table with gusto. Even though Richard Steele, one of their models, had written in an early number of the Spectator that it would be his “greatest Glory” if his essays became the topic of “Tea-Table Talk” among “reasonable Women,” Anglo-American moralists mercilessly satirized women’s tea-table conversations, finding in them no redeeming qualities. One British poet visualized “Our Madam o’er her Ev’ning-Tea;/Surrounded with her noisy Clans/Of Prudes, Coquets, and Harridans,” with the resulting talk consisting of “Inuendo’s, Hints and Slander’s,/Their Meanings lew’d, and double Entanders.”60 (p.168)

Consolidating the Feminine Private

Figure 5.2. “The Tea-Table,” a British satirical engraving, undated but c. mid-eighteenth century, John Bowles, London. A group of well-dressed ladies sit at a tea table, gossiping, as two men eavesdrop at the window. The long caption below decries the setting and the talk: “Chief Seat of Slander! Ever there we see,/Thick Scandal circulate with right Bohea.” The book open on the table is labeled “Chit-Chat,” and a demon hides at the feet of the lady on the right. At the left rear, Envy chases Truth and Justice out of the room.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

(p.169) Others wrote of “the insipid Tittle Tattle of a Tea Table,” of “Ladies … at a Tea Table emploied in their usual Business of Scandal and Detraction,” or how—once fashions and household matters had been disposed of—at a tea table “it is very well if you escape hearing a long roll of your Neighbour’s Faults, which either are not true, or if so would better be buried in Silence.” One essay of English origin, reprinted twice in the colonies, insisted that women who agreed on little else at the tea table concurred in “the vile Practice of Slander.” For his part, a Rhode Islander declared that if gossip were banned, “aCompany of Females at a Tea Table, would look like so many fair China Statues, as dumb, dull and unactive as their Cups and Saucers.”61

Benjamin Franklin took particular aim at tea tables and their aura of extravagance and slander in three clever satires in the Pennsylvania Gazette in the early 1730s. His alter ego Anthony Afterwit, “an honest Tradesman,” reported that his wife’s “strong Inclination to be a Gentlewoman” had led her to insist on buying a fashionable mirror and several tables and chairs, including a tea table “with all its Appurtenances of China and Silver,” so that she could entertain her visiting female friends. When he realized that her purchases were sending him into debt, he took the opportunity of her prolonged absence to exchange all those objects for more useful items. Anthony replaced the tea table with a spinning wheel, following Franklin’s lead in real life: Benjamin gave his sister Jane such a wheel as a wedding present instead of a tea table, because “the character of a good housewife was far preferable to that of being only a pretty gentlewoman.”62

Later Franklin wrote as “Alice Addertongue,” describing her role as a purveyor of gossip. A “young Girl” of thirty-five who lived with her mother in Philadelphia, Alice declared that she tried to censure someone each day as her contribution to the public, for “none ought to have a greater Share of Reputation than they really deserve.” Her devotion to slander led to a split with her mother: “we parted Tea-Table, and I concluded to entertain my Acquaintance in the Kitchin.” She spread scandal but her mother did not, so her mother’s guests became bored, subsequently joining her in the kitchen. Eventually her mother moved as well, and their tea table was once again united by scandalous talk. In the third essay, which appeared in May 1733, Franklin admitted that tea had some merit, for “Patience Teacraft” described how she had reformed her hard-drinking, gambling-addicted husband by brewing him repeated cups of “good strong Tea.”63

On one occasion a rhetorically feminine author attacked tea-table talk in the guise of defending it, just as “Deborah Sherman” had criticized George Whitefield while seeming to praise him. “Penelope Aspen,” a correspondent of the South Carolina Gazette, wrote to complain when the editor insisted (p.170) that women should seldom speak in company. She exclaimed in response, “What! debar us from those sweet Topicks of Conversation, Dress, and Fashions, and the dear delightful Satisfaction of railing at our Neighbours? Fie upon ye, even Addison himself were he here, dared not to have said so much.” After nodding to those who charged that men gossiped as much as women, and suggesting that the editor should criticize men too, Penelope offered unusual reasoning to support her request: women did not appreciate the “Encroachments” of “those mimick Tattlers in Breeches.” She called on men to acknowledge women’s supremacy as gossipers and to “secure to Us the sole Property of exercising this our antient Prerogative of the Tea-Table.” The satire thus went a step further than most, while remaining consistent in its portrayal of gossip and tea tables as exclusively feminine.64

Of course, that image was in many ways inaccurate. Women’s and men’s diary entries show that the two sexes often drank tea together and discussed a variety of topics in that context.65 Yet the parodies expressed a larger truth: tea tables, whether peopled by women alone or by men and women together, were governed by women. The hostess or her female surrogate presided over the event and directed the flow of conversation. Susan Stabile has termed this the “gynecocracy of the tea table” and has emphasized that women’s talk “broke the masculine monopoly on cultural representation.” Women understood tea-table rituals whereas men could feel out of place and confused in such a female-dominated setting. That, at least, was the message of a purported 1729 statement by young tradesmen in Philadelphia (or New York, where it was republished two years later, with appropriate emendations). The “young men” revealed that they sought wives of their own rank but were unacquainted with “the Politeness of Assemblies” and consequently felt “excessively awkward and rediculous” in the company of women who seemed to be of higher status than they. They explained that they could not distinguish between green and Bohea tea and that they did not truly like the beverage, “besides which there are great Variety of Utensils belonging to the Tea-Equipage which your Petitioners despair of ever learning the Name and Use of.” Without assistance, they complained, they despaired of ever being able to see past the “China-ware” on the tea table and to identify appropriate partners for themselves.66

Dr. Alexander Hamilton, a Scots physician who had settled in Annapolis, Maryland, remarked in the 1750s that “among the fair Sex, ceremony is a mighty favorite.” And among the ceremonies he cited, drinking tea stood out for its importance. “alady displays a great deal of benevolence in deigning to visit another lady, as she pays her a decent respect, and puts her upon an equality with herself, by discoursing over a dish of tea with her, on an Infinity (p.171) of triffles,” Hamilton observed. Even if “there be not real friendship, … yet the keeping up the form and Ceremony of going to see one another, turn about, shows a benevolence and respect.” His insightful cultural commentary revealed the probable dynamics of the afternoon tea parties hosted in 1734 by Grace Cosby in New York: the intimacy implied by invitations from the governor’s wife would have been hard to resist for any woman less determined to maintain political neutrality than Abigaill Franks.67

Yet most such occasions attended by women were not so ceremonious or contrived. One of the best sources for uncovering women’s own attitudes toward tea-table socializing is the diary of Hannah Callender, later Sansom, especially during the period before her marriage, because she often wrote not only about whom she saw but also about what they discussed and how she felt about their relationship. One such person was Caty Howel, “the Friend of my Youth, with whome I have passed many happy Hours.” After one evening at Caty’s, “none but she and I,” Hannah wrote, “‘the conversation of a friend brightens the eyes’ a pretty metaphor.” Another night at Caty’s, the two of them and a third woman drank tea and had “agood deal of conversation concerning some matches.” Among other topics, they discussed “popes opinion Every Woman is a Rake at heart.” Hannah signaled her awareness of the common cultural constructions of such sessions when she commented one winter afternoon that she, Caty, and two other women had “talked of the Gentry of the Town, yet twas not ‘in Scandel over the Tea,’ no base Innuendues hinted at, but the true desighn of Conversation, was endeavoured at, mutual Pleasure. we talked of Authers.” Yet on other occasions it is clear that local scandals were indeed the topics of tea-table talk: after she and her mother had tea with a neighbor, she wrote, “some talk on keeping [of mistresses], a wretched instance of it in there next Neigh: a man of credit till caught by that bait of Saten, the fear of being shackled for life.” And following afternoon tea with two women and an evening with a third, she once penned without further explanation: “those men are encroachers. ’tis hardly possible for Girls to be too careful of there Company. There are so many of the Sex that lead a life of repentance, for the neglect of this Caution.” The obvious implication was that at a tea table the women had exchanged information about men with dubious reputations.68

A cynic might contrast such accounts of actual tea-table scandalous talk, in which women usefully informed each other about untrustworthy men, to men’s accounts of such conversations (in which the subjects always seemed to be trivia or other women), and conclude that male moralists’ primary aim was to prevent women from communicating key pieces of information to each other outside the presence of men.

(p.172) The often-reprinted “Letter to a Very Young Lady on her Marriage,” by Jonathan Swift, advised a new wife in no uncertain terms to avoid the company of other women, even those of higher rank. Indeed, he warned, such high-status women might well lead her to “Foppery, Affectation, Vanity, Folly or Vice.” At most, she would need six female friends, whom she could see twice a year. “Your Company at home should consist of Men rather than Women,” he averred, observing, “I never yet knew a tollerable Woman to be fond of her own Sex.” It went almost without saying that her husband should choose her male companions; she certainly should not follow her female friends’ lead. Swift acknowledged that a “mixt and well Chosen” group of men and women could engage in “an intercourse of Civillity and good Will,” which could make for congenial and informative conversation. But, by contrast, “aknot of Ladies got together by themselves, is a very School of Impertinence and Detraction,” and participation in such gatherings should always be avoided.69

Swift declared that women should not have female friends; other eighteenth-century men insisted that women could not experience friendship among themselves comparable to that which men commonly enjoyed with each other. One Mr. Ewing, a tutor at the College of New Jersey in the 1750s, had the misfortune to say as much to Esther Edwards Burr, wife of the college’s president, when he offered the opinion that women “were hardly capable of anything so cool and rational as friendship.” In recounting the incident in a letter to her close friend, Sarah Prince, Esther revealed that she had “talked him quite silent.” She wrote: “My Tongue, you know, hangs prety loose, thoughts Crouded in—so I sputtered away for dear life” and “retorted several severe things upon him before he had time to speak again.” Yet he did not give ground in the hour-long dispute, Esther reported. In the end, he simply “got up and … went off.”70

Unknown to Mr. Ewing, on the previous day Annis Boudinot, Esther’s youthful local admirer, had handed her a poem lauding their relationship as “above the treasures of the Main.” “Burrissa Oh my soul aspires/And clames a kin with yours,” Annis exclaimed; “When first I knew thy Heavenly Mind/I felt the sacred Flame/[Of] Friendship rising in my Brest.” Commenting on the verse, Esther modestly informed Sarah that Annis’s regard for her was “overgrown” and “absurd,” but she was obviously pleased with the praise. Less than twenty-four hours later, she was not prepared to let a tutor inform her that she could not enjoy close relationships with other women.71

Manuscript collections of eighteenth-century American families include not only correspondence among male and female family members, but also many letters that passed between female friends like Esther and Sarah, ranging (p.173) in age from teenagers to adults. Women’s correspondence from the 1760s contains such deeply felt declarations of mutual affection as the following: “What would I not give just now, for an hours sweet conversation [with you]”; “[when I read your most recent letter] tears of heart felt joy and satisfaction dim’d my eyes and [I felt] expressions of Love and admiration at the condescention, constancy and tenderness of my dear Nancy’s Friendship”; “I look upon my thoughts as Safe in the Breast of my Friend as my own and upon that Consideration Shall Give you my opinion with out Reserve”; and “I know the Pleasure you give your Friends is not to be express’d by words, but why should it burst forth in Tears and yet I declare you never do or say a kind thing but it has that effect.”72

Befriending other women was a high priority for the South Carolinian Eliza Lucas Pinckney, who, when she listed a set of “resolutions” to guide her future behavior, included—along with being a good wife, mother, and sister—“I am resolved to be a sincere and faithful friend.” After one of her female friends fell victim to insanity, she recalled with a sharp sense of loss her friend’s once “cheerful temper, good sence, natural and pleasing vivacity” and lamented no longer being able to experience their “many happy times” together. Likewise, when Esther Burr died of smallpox in the prime of life, Sarah Prince was nearly inconsolable. “My whole dependance for Comfort in this World [is] gone,” Sarah wrote in her personal book of meditations. Esther “was dear to me as the Apple of my Eye—she knew and felt all my Griefs. … she was made for a Refin’d Friend. How faithfull? how sincere? how Open hearted? how Tender how carefull how disinterested—And she was mine! O the tenderness which tied our hearts!”73

In forging and maintaining such friendships with each other in violation of the strictures propounded by male cultural arbiters, eighteenth-century American women created an important component of the developing feminine private sphere, a virtual space for themselves that was even more important than were the evanescent actual spaces they could occasionally craft in their houses or around tea tables. Whereas men insisted that women always subordinate themselves to fathers and husbands and follow men’s directions throughout their lives, women recognized that intimate relationships with other women offered them necessary support in a male-dominated world. They deliberately cultivated such relationships, regardless of whether their female friends lived nearby (as did the Philadelphians Caty Howel and Hannah Callender) or far away (like Esther Burr in Princeton and Sarah Prince in Boston).

Men characterized eighteenth-century women’s domestic roles as little and narrow, and indeed they could well have been such—had women fully (p.174) accepted men’s definitions. But they did not. Even in the unwelcoming, overtly hostile pages of colonial newspapers, rhetorical women (many of whom were surely actual women) defended their sex’s intellectual abilities and cultural interests. While men sought to confine the private to the household, Anglo-American women expanded that concept to include their female friends, rejecting the limits men tried to impose on them. They developed a key cultural institution—the tea table—which they controlled and to which men were awkward intruders. After the mid-1760s, when tea gained explosive symbolic significance in the aftermath of the Townsend Duties (1767) and Tea Act (1773), that beverage and the female networks it created ironically thrust colonial women into the very sort of public role from which men had long attempted to exclude them, for women organized effective boycotts of the beverage identified with them. Soon after the public = male, private = female divide had been fully developed, in brief, events worked to break down those gendered barriers, and colonial women for a time assumed the role of state actors.

Notes:

(1.) Why the young apprentice chose a female persona for his anonymous authorial debut is uncertain, but his brother James and associates often used feminine pseudonyms in satirical pieces; see n. 32, below, for such satirical New-England Courant essays.

(2.) New-England Courant (hereafter NEC), 2, 16 April 1722. The fourteen Silence Dogood papers are reprinted in Leonard W. Labaree et al., eds., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 39 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959–), 1:8–45. Michael Warner, The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), 82–87, elides the implications of Silence’s female persona in an otherwise insightful discussion. Franklin possibly modeled Silence on Mistress Sarah Kemble Knight, a similarly well educated, widowed household head, whom he would probably have known (or known of) in his Boston childhood. Silence’s name has been interpreted as a sly riff on the sermons of the Reverend Cotton Mather, opposed by the NEC in the 1721 inoculation controversy.

(3.) Ioan Williams, ed., The Criticism of Henry Fielding (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), 329. For a full discussion of this source, see chapter 4, n. 38. On rhetorical femininity, see Tedra Osell, “Tatling Women in the Public Sphere: Rhetorical Femininity and the English Essay Periodical,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 38 (2005): 283–99.

(4.) NEC, 14, 28 May 1722. Ephraim Censorious could well have represented a restatement of objections to the subject of Silence’s essay Franklin had heard in the print shop. An NEC predecessor for Silence was a nominal Rhode Island spinster who complained about younger women misbehaving in church, in Ibid., 16 October 1721.

(5.) Of the fourteen essays, which appeared at intervals through 8 October 1722, three addressed ungendered subject matter and four others commented briefly on women. The essay criticizing female pride, which Ephraim requested, was published on 11 June.

(6.) Jenny Distaff first appeared in the tenth Tatler essay, and she reappeared periodically thereafter; see Donald F. Bond, ed., The Tatler, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 1:87 et seq.

(7.) See primarily G. J. Barker-Benfield, The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); and Michael McKeon, The Secret History of Domesticity: Public, Private, and the Division of Knowledge (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005). (p.228)

(8.) For numerous seventeenth-century examples of ungendered meanings for public and private, see Mary Beth Norton, Founding Mothers and Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 20–24 and passim (hereafter FM&F). For Addison and Steele’s usage, see, for example, Bond, Tatler, 2:457; Donald F. Bond, ed., The Spectator, 5 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), 1:73, 378. Two American examples: Speech of Governor William Burnet, 2 April 1729, in New-England Weekly Journal (hereafter NEWJ), 7 April 1729; J. Browne, “To the worshipful Mr. Thomas Bordley,” American Weekly Mercury (hereafter A WM), 20 November 1721. See also John Brewer, “This, That and the Other: Public, Social and Private in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” in Shifting the Boundaries: Transformation of the Languages of Public and Private in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Dario Castiglione and Lesley Sharpe (Exeter, U.K.: University of Exeter Press, 1995), 1–21.

(9.) Bond, Spectator, 3:271–72 (no. 342); Increase Mather, A Discourse concerning the Death of the Righteous … (Boston: B. Green, 1711), 18, 23–27 (quotations, 24, 25). Steele tended to use domestic as others would later use private; see Bond, Spectator, 3:32, 4:79. See also the analysis of Anne Hutchinson’s failure to employ the concept private in the defense of her religious activities, in FM&F, 378–82.

(10.) Bond, Spectator, 1:348–49 (no. 81); and chapter 4, n. 14 of this book; [Joseph Breintnall,] “Busy-Body no. 17,” A WM, 12 June 1729.

(11.) Quotations: Nathaniel Henchman, A Holy and Useful Life … (Boston: S. Kneeland, 1721), 14; Benjamin Colman, A Holy and Useful Life … (Boston: B. Green, 1715), 7; “Of Suitable Behaviour to Human Society,” New-York Gazette (hereafter NYG), 11 August 1735. For the Common Sense essays: no. 32, reprinted in Williams, Criticism of Fielding, 330; no. 135, as reprinted in New York Weekly Journal (hereafter NYWJ), 22 September 1740. See, on these sources, chapter 4, nn. 38, 41.

(12.) Bond, Tatler, 2:444 (no. 172); 1:430 (no. 62). See also Ibid., 1:473. By contrast, the Athenians had asserted that souls had no sex; see Athenian Mercury 5:3 (8 December 1691). On another occasion, Steele phrased sexual difference this way: “The Woman’s Province is to be careful in her Oeconomy, and chast[e] in her Affection: The Man’s, to be active in the Improvement of his Fortune” (Bond, Tatler, 1:368). Paradoxically, although Kathryn Shevelow, Women and Print Culture: The Construction of Femininity in the Early Periodical (London: Routledge, 1989), recognized that Addison and Steele offered “an early formulation” of “the equation between women’s nature and domesticity, which figured the family as an area of private and feminine experience” (140), she employed the anachronistic language of public and private throughout her otherwise insightful discussion; see her chap. 4 (93–145).

(13.) Bond, Spectator, 2:8–11 (no. 128). See also Ibid., 4:21–26 (nos. 433–34).

(14.) On such patterns, see Charles E. Clark, The Public Prints: The Newspaper in Anglo-American Culture, 1665–1740 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 141–64, 207–10, 259–65; and Ian K. Steele, The English Atlantic, 1675–1740: An Exploration of Communication and Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 132–68. Steele indicates that, on average, events were reported in the colonial press eighty-three days after they occurred in Europe (Ibid., 158). Clark notes that local authors occasionally paid to have their works published in the newspapers. Among the items of English origin, articles taken from the Gentleman’s Magazine (hereafter GM), London Magazine, and the mid-eighteenth-century Universal Spectator essay series seemed particularly popular with colonial editors. (p.229)

(15.) Stephen Botein, “‘Meer Mechanics’ and an Open Press: The Business and Political Strategies of Colonial American Printers,” Perspectives in American History 9 (1975): 127–225, focuses largely on political issues but usefully clarifies printers’ motivations and gives circulation figures (see 149–50). For literacy information, see E. Jennifer Monaghan, Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005). The sorts of books available in Boston late in the seventeenth century are listed in the 1700 probate inventory of a Boston bookseller, printed in John Dunton, Letters from New England (Boston: Prince Society, 1867), 314–19.

(16.) Clark, Public Prints, 222, 249, 256. Clark, 249, cites the New-England Weekly Journal as the one early newspaper that appeared to recognize its partly female audience. David A. Copeland, Colonial American Newspapers: Character and Content (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997), chap. 6 and appendix 2, discusses the newspapers’ lack of content involving women as subjects or presumed readers.

(17.) See Joel Perlmann and Dennis Shirley, “When Did New England Women Acquire Literacy?” WMQ, 3rd ser., 48 (1991): 50–67, with comment by Mary Beth Norton and reply by Perlmann, Ibid., 639–48; see also Monaghan, Learning to Read and Write. The evidence suggests that American women’s literacy expanded significantly no earlier than midcentury. Only two American magazines, one in 1745 and one in 1769, even ventured to publish before the 1770s. Both quickly failed. When Samuel Sewall courted several Boston widows in the 1720s, he took newspapers as gifts, thus implying that without a man in the house the women might not have had regular access to papers. See Richard D. Brown, Knowledge Is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700–1865 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 38.

(18.) Untitled, unsigned essay on the character of the fair sex, NEWJ, 24 March 1729.

(19.) Reflections on Courtship and Marriage: in Two Letters to a Friend … (Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin, 1746), 2, 20, 31–33, and passim. The pamphlet, evidently of English origin, is of unknown authorship.

(20.) See, for instance, “Old Heathen Story,” Maryland Gazette (hereafter MG), 11 March 1728/9, also printed in Weekly Rehearsal (hereafter WR), 22 May 1732, on the possible separate creation of men and women; and “Homespun Jack,” NEC, 23 March 1724, expressing concerns about women wearing men’s clothing; reprinted in AWM, 28 February 1738, from a 1737 issue of the Boston Weekly Post-Boy that seems to be no longer extant. On the latter topic, as in so many other regards, colonial writers were echoing the Spectator; see Bond, Spectator, 1:434–35, 4:28.

(21.) “Meanwell,” untitled essay on patriotism, NYG, 15 April 1734; the 1737 essay: GM 7 (1737): 554 (see chapter 4, n. 38); OED, q.v. oeconomy, economy. See also references to both “private Life” and “private Family,” in “The True Patriot,” an article reprinted from a December 1732 British publication, in WR, 4 June 1733. The earliest colonial use of the phrase private life I have located is Civicus, “An Essay on Envy, Philosophical and Political,” AWM, 31 August 1732, referring only to men. The earliest British use of private life in a familial context (found through an ECCO full-text search) appears to be J. Morgan, comp., The New Political State of Great Britain … (London: A. Campbell, 1730), 1:15. (Earlier British uses of the phrase employed private as a synonym for secluded or nonpolitical.) (p.230)

(22.) Common Sense 135, 1 September 1739, as reprinted in NYWJ, 22 September 1740 (also see chapter 4, n. 41); [A Gentleman], Man Superior to Woman … (1739), as reprinted in Beauty’s Triumph … (London: J. Robinson, 1751), 38.

(23.) “aCharacter,” American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (hereafter AMHC) 2 (April 1745): 169. The parameters of private life were quite different when applied to men. An English essayist (in a piece reprinted in Boston in 1748, forwarded by a reader) defined a man’s “general Character in private Life” as being “honest to his Tradesmen, kind to his Family, regular in his Conduct, not addicted to any notorious Vice, nor in Danger of growing necessitous by living at too much Expence.” See “For an Elector,” Independent Advertiser, 9 May 1748. A rare essay contending that women’s household roles affected public welfare was published in the Boston Evening Post (hereafter BEP), 22 February 1742, submitted by a reader, but it was an excerpt from Richard Allestree’s 1667 tract The Causes of the Decay of Christian Piety, and so it represented old-fashioned thinking at the time.

(24.) “U. Loverule,” “Offences against Common Sense in the Ladies, particularly Wives,” South Carolina Gazette (hereafter SCG), 27 June 1748. The only eighteenth-century women whose public role was recognized were the wives of the colonial governors William Burnet and Jonathan Belcher. See “An Elegy upon Mrs Burnett,” NYG, 18 December 1727; AWM, 2 January 1728; Boston Gazette (hereafter BG), 15 January 1728; Burnet’s husband had been governor of New York and New Jersey, then Massachusetts and Connecticut. Also see Thomas Prince, Christ Abolishing Death … (Boston: J. Draper, 1736), 39, a funeral sermon for Mary Belcher, whose husband was then governor of Massachusetts.

(25.) Quotations in this paragraph and the next two from “C.W.” to Mr. [Andrew] Bradford, AWM, 15 April 1736; and an untitled article attributed to “forst. serm.” [Thomas Forster’s Sermons] in Pennsylvania Gazette (hereafter PG), 8 April 1736. The PG author once employed mankind, but in a phrase that clearly implied universal masculinity: “he esteems all Mankind as his Brethren.”

(26.) Household expense management: NEWJ, 24 November–16 December 1728, passim. Courtship and marriage: e.g., NEC, 4 May 1724; NYG, 30 December 1734; Virginia Gazette (hereafter VG), 17 February 1737/8. Some of many misogynist satires: PG, 5 September 1734; New-York Gazette, revived in the Weekly Post-Boy (hereafter NYG WPB), 23 February 1747 [the same piece as in PG, adapted to New York)]; New-York Weekly Post-Boy (hereafter NYWPB), 13 August 1744.

(27.) For a brief but insightful discussion of the “cognitive dissonance” female writers would experience in such a context, see Warner, Letters of the Republic, 15–16. The fullest discussion of rhetorical femininity is Osell, “Tatling Women.”

(28.) Quotations in this paragraph and the next are from “Martia” to the editor, SCG, 12 January 1731/2. Cf. other discussions of this exchange in Clark, Public Prints, 232–33; Elizabeth Cook, Literary Influences in Colonial Newspapers, 1704–1750 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1912), 231–32, 234; and Cara Anzilotti, In the Affairs of the World: Women, Patriarchy, and Power in Colonial South Carolina (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002), 113.

(29.) “Rattle” to “Miss Martia’s Papa,” 22 January 1731/2, SCG.

(30.) Martia to the editor, 29 January 1731/2, Ibid. Letters from nominal men in SCG continued the dialogue on reputations; see “Honestus,” 29 January, and “ZX,” 26 February. Letters that spring in SCG from nominal women focused on standard (p.231) topics: “Flotilla” (women’s dress; 1 April); “Penelope Aspen” (gossip; 17 June); and “Laetitia” (beauty; 24 June).

(31.) Jenny Distaff provides a classic example of a rhetorical woman who never challenged such constraints; indeed, she told readers in July 1709, “you must expect the Advices you meet with in this Paper to be such, as more immediately and naturally fall under the Consideration of our Sex: History therefore written by a woman, you will easily imagine to consist of Love in all its Forms, both in the Abuse of, and Obedience to that Passion.” (Bond, Tatler, 1:261 [no. 36]).

(32.) Clark, Public Prints, 231–39, has a brief section on women in the colonial press but fails to consider rhetorical femininity. Carla Mulford discusses the difficulties eighteenth-century women faced in trying to publish their work; see Mulford, ed., Only for the Eye of a Friend: The Poems of Annis Boudinot Stockton (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), 33–34. The NEC and its editor, James Franklin, were particularly notable for contrived satirical dialogues between pseudonymous men and “women”—often the same men. For example, “S.B.” (a contributor named Gardner) complained in January 1721/2 of his “Scolding Wife,” eliciting replies several weeks later from “Abigail Afterwit” (James Franklin), “Hortensia” (Gardner himself), and “Ann Careful” (Thomas Fleet). For the identification of the authors of these pieces, see Worthington Chauncey Ford, “Franklin’s New England Courant,” Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society 57 (1923–24): 336–53, esp. 351–53.

(33.) See, for example, “An Extraordinary Petition to Parliament, from several Ladies of Quality,” SCG, 28 July 1733 (from the London Magazine); petition from “Rachel Wishful” et al., Ibid., 11 April 1743 (from the Universal Spectator); and “The Humble Petition of a Society of young women known by the Name of The Petticoat Club …,” NYG WPB, 20 March 1749, reprinted in MG, 26 April 1749, and SCG, 22 May 1749. A reply from “aBatchelor” appeared in New-York Evening Post, 3 April 1749.

(34.) See, e.g., Dorothy Forecast, NEC, 25 November 1723; Mary Pensive, NEWJ, 5 February 1727/8; Mary Meanwell, SCG, 26 February 1731/2; and Hester Decent, NYWJ, 23 July 1739.

(35.) Husbands: AWM, 12 March 1730; SCG, 20 July 1747. Suitors: NEC, 19 March 1721/2, and PG, 26 June 1732 (the same letter, recycled by Benjamin Franklin); SCG, 2 November 1747, also in MG, 13 January 1748. Seducers: NEWJ, 25 March 1734; AWM, 25 November 1736, also in NYWJ, 6 December 1736. See also the poem by “Carolina,” “On her Father having desir’d her to forbid all young Men the House,” SCG, 3 August 1747.

(36.) “The Ladies Complaint,” VG, 22 October 1736, and SCG, 15 August 1743; “Verses written by a young Lady, on Woman born to be controul’d,” SCG, 21 November 1743; AMHC 1 (June 1744): 435; and American Magazine 2 (August 1769): 271–72. “The Ladies Complaint” was sung offstage during The Generous Choice, performed in London in 1700; the play followed two disguised women as they sought revenge against the man who had seduced them both. See Mr. [Francis] Manning, The Generous Choice: A Comedy … (London: R. Wellington and A. Bettesworth, 1700), 5–6. The second poem, titled “Woman’s Hard Fate,” by “aLady,” appeared in GM 3 (July 1733): 371.

(37.) The first response poem is “Incog” to editor, SCG, 22 August 1743 (a poem that did not appear in VG); the author claimed it was “compos’d immediately upon (p.232) reading The Ladies Complaint.” The second is from GM 3 (July 1733): 371, and SCG, 11 November 1743.

(38.) “Deborah Sherman” to Mr. Whitefield, BEP, 21 January 1745 (reprinted in SCG, 18 March 1745); same to Mr. Fleet, BEP, 15 April 1745. On the BEP, Thomas Fleet, and the Sherman letters see Harry S. Stout, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1991), 187–88, 196–97, but some historians have erroneously cited the satires as genuine statements by a Whitefield follower. For a comment about Whitefield’s appeal to women, see Mary Pringle Fenhagen, ed., “Letters and Will of Robert Pringle (1702–1776),” South Carolina Historical Magazine 50 (1949): 94. For two letters that used nominal women to make political points about local ordinances in New York, see “Deborah Careful” to Mr. Zenger, 2 September 1734, NYWJ; “Deborah Sl——e” to editor, 27 August 1744, NY WPB.

(39.) Thus when Sophia Hume, a Quaker public friend, published a religious tract in 1748, she began by observing that “aWoman’s appearing on the Behalf of God and Religion” was “anovel and uncommon Occasion,” and that only God’s “Favour” had led her to undertake to appear “publickly in Print, or otherwise.” She even remarked that she might be thought by readers to be “under some unaccountable Delusion, or affected with religious Madness.” See Hume, An Exhortation to the Inhabitants of the Province of South Carolina (Philadelphia: William Bradford, 1748), 4.

(40.) “aGeneral Review of Female Fashions Address’d to the Ladies,” AWM, 25 November 1731, reprinted (untitled) in WR, 10 January, 1731/2; “Betty Pert” to editor, WR, 17 January 1731/2. See also the exchange between “I.F.” and an unnamed woman in NYWJ, 26 June, 10 July 1749. A similar response to satires on women’s dress in Spectator came from “Dorinda”; see Bond, Spectator, 3:161.

(41.) The first and last quotations in the paragraph come from an exchange published in NYG, 7, 13 June 1731 (the initial letter, “from an English paper,” was first printed in MG, 20 October 1730); the other exchange is from AWM, 3, 17 July 1729. See also the attacks on tea as unhealthful, in NEWJ, 12, 19 July 1737 (to which no response was printed); and an exchange about the high cost of tea, BEP, 18, 25 August 1746.

(42.) “Generosa” to the editor, AWM, 5 January 1730/1, reprinted in BG, 15 February 1730/1. (I was unable to locate the essay to which she was responding.) “Generosa” was identified as Elizabeth Magawlay by David S. Shields; see his “The Wits and Poets of Pennsylvania: New Light on the Rise of Belles Lettres in Provincial Pennsylvania, 1720–1740,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 109 (1985): 100–102.

(43.) “Unpolish’d Thoughts” submitted to editor by H.C., VG, 20 May 1737, reprinted with some variations from PG, 8 October 1730. See a modern reprint in J. A. Leo Lemay, ed., Benjamin Franklin: Writings (New York: Library of America, 1987), 151–55 (not included in Labaree et al., Papers of Franklin, because Franklin’s authorship was not confirmed at the time volume 1 was published).

(44.) “Andromache” to editor, 22 May, VG, 3 June 1737.

(45.) The untitled, unsigned essay was published in AWM, 17 September 1730. In diaries and letters, women railed about men’s misogynistic comments: see, for example, Susan Klepp and Karin Wulf, eds., The Diary of Hannah Callender Sansom: Sense and Sensibility in the Age of the American Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University (p.233) Press, 2010), 48, 56, 90; Carol F. Karlsen and Laurie Crumpacker, eds., The Journal of Esther Edwards Burr, 1754–1757 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984), 257. In 1756, Annis Boudinot replied in verse to “aSarcasm against the ladies in a newspaper,” but her poem was not published until 1805; see Mulford, Only for the Eye of a Friend, 74.

(46.) This paragraph and the next five summarize my reading of numerous books and articles on the architectural history of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American colonies. Few of these works discuss the gendered dimensions of housing design. Among the most important for my thinking have been the following: Richard L. Bushman, The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), chap. 4; Edward A. Chappell, “Housing a Nation: The Transformation of Living Standards in Early America,” in Of Consuming Interests: The Style of Life in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Cary Carson, Ronald Hoffman, and Peter J. Albert (Char lottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994), 167–232; John E. Crowley, The Invention of Comfort: Sensibilities and Design in Early Modern Britain and Early America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001); Abbott Lowell Cummings, The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, 1625–1725 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979), chap. 3 and appendix; Abbott Lowell Cummings, “Inside the Massachusetts House,” in Common Places: Readings in American Vernacular Architecture, ed. Dell Upton and John Michael Vlach (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986), 219–39; Willie Graham, Carter L. Hudgins, Carl R. Lounsbury, Fraser D. Neiman, and James P. Whittenburg, “Adaptation and Innovation: Archaeological and Architectural Perspectives on the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake,” WMQ, 3rd ser., 64 (2007): 451–522; Bernard Herman, Town House: Architecture and Material Life in the Early American City, 1780–1830 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005); James Horn, Adapting to a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), chap. 7; Jessica Kross, “Mansions, Men, Women, and the Creation of Multiple Publics in Eighteenth-Century North America,” Journal of Social History (hereafter JSH) 33 (1999–2000): 385–408; McKeon, Secret History of Domesticity, chap. 5; Susan M. Stabile, Memory’s Daughters: The Material Culture of Remembrance in Eighteenth-Century America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), chap. 1; Robert Blair St. George, “‘Set Thine House in Order’: The Domestication of the Yeomanry in Seventeenth-Century New England,” in New England Begins: The Seventeenth Century, 3 vols. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1982), 2:159–88; Kevin M. Sweeney, “Furniture and the Domestic Environment in Wethersfield, Connecticut, 1639–1800,” in Material Life in America, 1600–1860, ed. Robert Blair St. George (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1988), 261–90; Dell Upton, “Vernacular Domestic Architecture in Eighteenth-Century Virginia,” in Upton and Vlach, Common Places, 315–35; and Mark R. Wenger, “The Central Passage in Virginia: Evolution of an Eighteenth-Century Living Space,” in Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, II, ed. Camille Wells (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986), 137–49.

(47.) The 1798 direct tax lists show that most American houses remained small and poorly constructed in the late eighteenth century, with relatively few houses having differentiated spaces even then; see Carole Shammas, “The Housing Stock of the Early United States: Refinement Meets Migration,” WMQ, 3rd ser., 64 (2007): 549–87. An example of a small dwelling, described by a witness as “avery good (p.234) House—better than common for that part of the Country,” was a farmhouse near Albany owned by a loyalist couple. In testimony in 1785, the widow Mary Swords told the loyalist claims commission that her lost home had “two Rooms on a Floor besides 2 small Bed Rooms.” See Audit Office (hereafter AO) 12/20, ff. 272–73, TNA.

(48.) See Bushman, Refinement of America, chap. 4; and Kross, “Mansions, Men, Women,” on the development of specialized entertainment spaces.

(49.) For instance, see Elaine Forman Crane et al., eds., The Diary of Elizabeth Drinker, 3 vols. (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991), 1:xxxi, for telling observations on the flexible nature of sleeping arrangements in the Drinker household.

(50.) Mary Beth Norton, ed., “‘My Resting Reaping Times’: Sarah Osborn’s Defense of Her ‘Unfeminine’ Activities, 1767,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2 (1976): 527.

(51.) See Stabile, Memory’s Daughters, 24, 52, 92, on “closets” as small feminine spaces; and also Cummings, “Inside the Massachusetts House,” 227. My thanks to Bernard Herman for a conversation on the subject of such closets. Cf. Kross, “Mansions, Men, Women,” 396–401, which advances a different interpretation of tea tables. Cynthia Kierner, Beyond the Household: Women’s Place in the Early South, 1700–1835 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), chap. 2, stresses the importance of dancing assemblies rather than tea tables as female-dominated sociable spaces.

(52.) Quotation: “Philopatriae” to editor, BG, 17 November 1747. On tea drinking in general, see David S. Shields, Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), chap. 4, esp. 114; Shields, “Eighteenth-Century Literary Culture,” in The Colonial Book in the Atlantic World, ed. Hugh Amory and David D. Hall (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 460–61; and Beth Kowaleski-Wallace, “Tea, Gender, and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century England,” in Carla H. Hay and Syndy M. Conger, eds., Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 23 (1994): 131–45. In the cumulative index to Bond, Spectator, vol. 5, references to tea drinking, tea tables, and so forth occupy almost an entire column. The earliest reference to tea-drinking women I have found in the American newspapers is an essay by “Sisyphus” (Mr. Gardner) in NEC, 2 April 1722. Joseph Browne’s letter to Thomas Bordley, printed in AWM, 20 November 1721, mentions a “Tea Table Report” about Bordley’s wife but does not specify the sex of the tea-drinking gossipers, though presumably they were female. See, on tea’s history, Alan Macfarlane and Iris Macfarlane, The Empire of Tea: The Remarkable History of the Plant That Took over the World (New York: Overlook Press, 2004); and Beatrice Hohenegger, Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea from East to West (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2006).

(53.) Ridris Roth, “Tea-Drinking in Eighteenth-Century America: Its Etiquette and Equipage,” in St. George, Material Life, 439–62. Herman, Town House, 193, cites the inventory of a poor Baltimore artisan; among the family’s listed possessions were a tea caddy and a tea tray (but no teapot or china cups). The exhibition catalog Tea Drinking in the West ([Nagoya, Japan:] Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 2001) illustrates tea dishes, pots, bowls, spoons, and other tea-related items.

(54.) Carole Shammas, The Pre-industrial Consumer in England and America (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 181–88, esp. 186; Shammas, “The Domestic Environment in Early Modern England and America,” JSH 14 (1980): 14–17; Abbott Lowell Cummings, ed., Rural Household Inventories: Establishing the Names, Uses and Furnishings of (p.235) Rooms in the Colonial New England Home, 1675–1775 (Boston: Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, 1964), 115, 124, 147, 165, 191, 199 (for the earliest appearances of various tea-related items); Sweeney, “Furniture and the Domestic Environment,” 261–90, esp. 274. But cf. on backcountry families in Virginia, Ann Smart Martin, Buying into the World of Goods: Early Consumers in Backcountry Virginia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 83–84, 124–27, suggesting that tea was not as popular there.

(55.) Quotations: Adolph B. Benson, ed. and trans., Peter Kalm’s Travels in North America, 2 vols. (New York: Wilson-Erickson, 1937), 1:190; Katherine Hay to Sibyll Farnham, 23 June 1778, Hay Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston. For a gift of tea, see Papers of the Lloyd Family of the Manor of Queens Village …, New-York Historical Society Collections 59 (New York, 1926), 1:416 (also 439, for a reference to well-used teaspoons). For women’s diaries noting tea drinking in Philadelphia, see Crane et al., Diary of Drinker; and Klepp and Wulf, Diary of Sansom. Both Elizabeth Drinker and Hannah Callender Sansom had tea in single-sex and mixed-sex groups.

(56.) In order, the sources describing these objects are AO 13/91, f. 3; AO 12/30, f. 358; AO 13/68, f. 261; AO 13/90, ff. 175–76; AO 13/126, f. 498; AO 13/80, f. 269; AO 13/79, f. 540; and AO 13/131, ff. 10–11.

(58.) Grace Galloway to Elizabeth Nickleson, 6 November 1753, HM 36845, Joseph Galloway Papers, HEHL. But “what is Much More disagreeable” even than the tea ritual with the women, she reported in the same letter, was that all her new husband’s male friends called in the mornings for a week after the wedding to drink punch and to kiss her. “Nothing in Nature can be more Confounding then to be drag’d into the Company of 12 or 16 men in a Morning Just to be kiss’d & stared at” with no other woman present, Grace wrote, estimating that “Upwards of seventy Men” had kissed her that week. See also Herman, Town House, 73–75, on tea-drinking rituals; and his chapter on “the widow’s dower” (155–91) on how the needs of sociability could affect a widow’s share of her deceased husband’s house. My thanks to Joseph Roach for the information about the need to pour tea slowly.

(59.) Catherine L. Courreye Blecki and Karin A. Wulf, eds., Milcah Martha Moore’s Book: A Commonplace Book from Revolutionary America (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), 299. When drinking tea became politicized because of British tax policy in the 1770s, Griffits lamented: “Why all their [revolutionaries’] Malice shewn to tea/So near, so dear—belov’d by me,/Reviving Draught, when I am dry—/Tea I must have, or I shall dye.” And to that poem her friend Susanna Wright added a note: “Alas! how could the wise & generous gent. who compos’d the Congress be so cruel to the whole female World, to debar them so totally of their favourite Potation? … I cannot for my Life see the propriety of making this innocent aliment the chief object of their Vengeance” (Ibid., 247, 250).

(60.) Bond, Spectator, 1:21 (no. 4); “The Journal of a Modern Lady in a Letter to a Lady of Quality,” AWM, 13 August 1730, identified as reprinted from “FOG’s Weekly Journal.” The one time a purported tea-table conversation (between two women, Lady Lurewell and Lady Loveless) was reproduced at length in the American press, it consisted not of scandal but of advice about how to deal with a husband who spent his time “Drinking, Gaming, and Whoring.” See the dialogue “The Female (p.236) Council … at a Tea-Table Conference,” printed seriatim in Father Abraham’s Almanack … (Philadelphia: W. Dunlap, 1765–68), from August 1766 through March 1769, unpaginated. (Thanks to Karin Wulf for this reference.)

(61.) “The Advantages of a mutual Correspondence between the two Sexes,” SCG, 6 December 1742 (identified as from GM, June 1742); “The Monitor No. 7,” VG, 17 September 1736; “X,” NEWJ, 4 December 1727; “Of Slander,” printed in both WR, 12 February 1732/3, and BG, 24 September 1739 (identified as from the Weekly Register); “Tom Trueman” to editor, Rhode-Island Gazette, 18 October 1732. On rare occasions writers would blame men for such gossip too; thus “An Essay on Scandal and Evil-Speaking” remarked that “if its fatal Streams rise over the Tea-Table, the Bottle and Bowl have their Share too in the Infection,” and went on to decry men’s penchant for slanderous talk. See AMHC 1 (December 1744): 670–77 (quotation, 670). See also, for example, the letter from “Philanthropos,” BG, 17 February 1734/5.

(62.) “Anthony Afterwit” to editor, PG, 10 July 1732 (reprinted in Labaree et al., Papers of Franklin, 1:237–40); Carl Van Doren, ed., The Letters of Benjamin Franklin and Jane Mecom (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1950), 35.

(63.) “Alice Addertongue” to editor, PG, 12 September 1732 (reprinted in Labaree et al., Papers of Franklin, 1:243–48); “Patience Teacraft,” “The Tea-Table,” PG, 31 May 1733. Franklin claimed to have reprinted “The Tea-Table” from the Rhode-Island Gazette, but I have not located an issue that included the Teacraft essay. J. A. Leo Lemay attributed “Patience Teacraft” to James Franklin, then the publisher of that paper, and it was not included in Papers of Franklin, but the style seems to me unmistakable—very like Benjamin and unlike James’s contributions to the NEC. When Benjamin, as “Janus,” was editing NEC while his brother was in jail in Boston in 1723, a letter purportedly from his cousin, “Bridget Bisrous,” attacked scandalous tea-table conversation. It is unclear whether Benjamin had a hand in drafting that critique (NEC, 19 August 1723).

(64.) “Penelope Aspen” to editor, SCG, 17 June 1732. “Penelope” was clearly familiar with Addison’s negative views of women’s conversation; see, e.g., Bond, Spectator, 1:67–68, 2:458–62, 499.

(65.) See, for example, Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling, eds., William Byrd of Virginia: The London Diary (1717–1721) and Other Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), 399, 401, 403 (an unusual day when Byrd drank tea with another man and no women); Mabel L. Webber, ed., “Extracts from the Journal of Mrs. Ann Manigault, 1754–1781,” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 20 (1919): 59, 63.

(66.) Susan Stabile, “Salons and Power in the Era of Revolution: From Literary Coteries to Epistolary Enlightenment,” in Benjamin Franklin and Women, ed. Larry E. Tise (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000), 132–33; “To the Reformer of Manners: The Petition of Several of the young Tradesmen and Artificers …” published in both AWM, 29 May 1729, and NYG, 13 June 1731. See also Busy-Body no. 19, AWM, 26 June 1729, in which the Busy-Body (Joseph Breintnall) admitted being confused by the rapid repartee at a tea table he attended.

(67.) Alexander Hamilton, The History of the Ancient and Honorable Tuesday Club, 3 vols., ed. Robert Miklus (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 3:130, 132. (p.237)

(68.) Klepp and Wulf, Sansom Diary, 83, 48, 73, 81–82, 132, 128. Hannah herself directly encountered scandals when she tried to help a lone woman traveler to Philadelphia in February 1759, only to discover that the woman in question was in the midst of eloping to Long Island with an older husband (Ibid., 90, 92, 95); and when her own maidservant was seduced and abandoned in 1769 (Ibid., 238).

(69.) “Letter to a Lady on her Marriage,” NEWJ, 15 February 1730/1 (with a second part published 1 March). Also reprinted in AMHC 3 (September 1746): 399–404, where it is identified as by Swift; and as an appendix to Reflections on Courtship and Marriage. Swift wrote this missive in 1727, directing it to an acquaintance, Deborah Rochefort. In the same letter Swift also told her that no matter how much she read she could never “arise in point of Learning to any great perfection.”

(70.) Karlsen and Crumpacker, Journal of Burr, 257. Another eighteenth-century man who made this point was James Fordyce, Sermons to Young Women, 6th ed., 2 vols., (London: D. Payne, 1766), 1:78. He too was challenged, as one teenaged Philadelphian wrote to another, “How can my Fordyce say that there cant be friendship between Girls, if it is not true love and friendship, what is it I feel for thee—nothing less I am sure” (Peggy Emlen to Sally Logan, 4th day afternoon, 1768, in Margery P. M. Brown Collection, box 1, Historical Society of Pennsylvania).

(72.) Peggy Emlen to Sally Logan, 4th day afternoon, 1768, Margery P. M. Brown Collection, box 1; Anne Moore to Anne DeLancey, n.d. [early 1760s], “DeLancey Reminiscences,” DeLancey Papers, Museum of the City of New York; Sarah Hanschurst to Sally Forbes, 1762, Sarah Hanschurst Letterbook, Library of Congress Manuscript Division; Christian Barnes to Elizabeth Smith, 26 May 1770, Christian Barnes Letterbook, Ibid. See my Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750–1800 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980; Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996), esp. 105–9, for more on such relationships. Mulford, Only for the Eye of a Friend, 5, stresses the importance of female friends for Annis Stockton.

(73.) Harriott Horry Ravenel, Eliza Pinckney (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1896), 117; Elise Pinckney, ed., The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1739–1762 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997; orig. pub. 1972), 46; Karlsen and Crumpacker, Journal of Burr, 307.