Friday, December 21, 2007

Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune

My departure from the beaten track of novel-writing, in which I had achieved a moderate degree of success, was in direct opposition to the advice of the friends to whom I mentioned the project. The publishers, in whose hands my first cook-book has reached the million mark, confessed frankly to me, after ten editions had sold in as many months, that they accepted the work solely in the hope that I might give them a novel at some subsequent period. Even my husband shook a doubtful head over the wild scheme. It was the only book published by me that had not his frank and hearty approval. Upheld by the rooted conviction that I had been made, through my own shortcomings and battles, fit to supply what American women lacked and needed sorely, I never debated or doubted. Marion Harland

Like Jane Croly Cunningham (a.k.a. Jennie June) author of Jennie June's American Cookery Book, Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune had a penname, Marion Harland. And, like Jane Croly, she was born in the month of December. December 21, 1830 in Amelia County, Dennisville, Virginia. Both Jennie June and Marion Harland had brothers who thought highly of them and both found knowledge in their fathers' libraries. Both were American authors, who "promoted an ideal of womanhood that was strong, intellectual, and capable of independent living," although, neither were "feminist." There are so many similarities among them, one has to wonder. Amazing! Or is it?

"It is a comfort to a believer in heredity to be assured that the tree was sound at heart, in spite of the warped and severed bough." Marion Harland

Marion Harland: The making of a household word

Common Sense in the Household

Marion Harland: The making of a household word (1990) is an excellent narrative biography of Marion Harland's life by Karen Manners Smith, Ph.D. "It makes extensive use of manuscript sources, including collected letters, the recently discovered diaries of Marion Harland and her husband, and a family memoir, also unpublished and previously unknown." Twenty-four pages of the thesis are available online for reading or purchasing.

Forgotten today by all but a handful of women's domestic and literary historians, Marion Harland (1830-1922) was one of the best known American women in the nineteenth century. She was the author of some 75 works of fiction and domestic advice, hundreds of magazine articles and short stories, and a series of syndicated newspaper advice columns. It is not extravagant to say that Marion Harland was, for many readers, the Julia Child, Danielle Steel, and Dear Abby of her day. read more

"Virginia's illustrious daughter" published her first novel, Alone, privately in 1854. She married Reverend Edward Payson Terhune, a New Jersey clergyman in 1856. They had six children, three of whom survived into adulthood. She later wrote The National Cook Book, (1896) with her daughter Christine Terhune Herrick. Her son, Albert Payson Terhune was also a writer. I found it quite interesting to uncover, Mrs. Mary Virginia Terhune's, cooking talents were quite limited. She actually wasn't much of a "Martha Stewart" at the onset of her marriage. Perhaps, we should explore.

I had already made a resolve from which I never swerved: If my cook did not understand her business, and I understood it even less, I would not confess it. Marion Harland

Timing is Everything

From the time Mary Virginia Hawes married Reverend Terhune (1856) to the time Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery (1871) was published, approximately 15 years had elasped. Although she had achieved great success with her antebellum plantation romances, (the commercial edition of Alone sold more than 100,000) her books and columns of advice for homemakers were more of a challenge. Before the inception of Common Sense In the Household, Marion Harland had no desire to repeat her continued reflections in her experiences in domestic lore. She was ignorant of most housekeeping skills and often relied on Miss Leslie's Complete Cookery: Directions for Cookery to be of assistance. But what of the other influences in her domestic life? She would live to see the end of the Civil War in 1865, the beginning of the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

Besides Eliza Leslie's cookery book, the housewife had many other influential authorities and text available to aid in the preparation of food and the domestic duties of the household. Those who could afford servants, found it necessary to educate themselves. For those who didn't, the never ending duties were not only labor intensive but also consumed a large part of every woman's day. Laundry Day alone consisted of carrying water (and the fuel to heat it), scrubbing, rinsing, wringing, hanging, drying and folding. It was a back breaking task that literally took the entire day. One of the most notable kitchen innovations which occurred during Mrs. Hawes marriage was the introduction of the wood burning cook stove in the late 1850's. The "new" cookstoves burned wood or coal more efficiently than open fireplaces. Fireplaces were quite difficult and dangerous to cook meals on. Popping logs spewed embers into rooms and it wasn't uncommon for a woman's clothes to get caught on fire. Children, which were often set in front of the fire for warmth, were often in danger also. The cookstoves had grates which allowed more control of the fire. It could be loaded from either side, and the built-in oven for baking was equally accessible. It also had an ash-bin for collecting the ashes. As a labor saving device, there was little difference in the amount of time and strength needed to operate them. Wood still needed to be placed in the small door of the firebox. Besides cooking, the stoves were used for heating water, boiling the laundry, heating sadirons and other tasks. In modern times, I suppose you could say cookstoves allowed for a certain amount of "multi-tasking." Mary Virginia could learn recipes from Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt-Book, 1858, "designed to make life easier and better for the average homemaker." The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph (1860), "widely regarded as the first truly Southern cookbook" and The Young Housekeeper's Friend (1863) by Mrs. Cornelius. The Boston Cooking School Cook Book which was published in 1884 by Mrs. D. A. Lincoln, and was honored as one of the most influential American books published before 1900, was also a kitchen standard.

By 1875, Marion Harland published Breakfast, Lunch and Tea and moved from Springfield Massachusetts to Brooklyn, New York. While she was writing essays on domestic conduct, electric stoves were being introduced by the Carpenter Electric Heating Company and Josephine Cochran's; Garis Cochrane Dish-Washing Machine was a hit at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. While Harland was writing syndicated columns on women's affairs for the Philadelphia North American from 1900-1910 and Marion Harland's Complete Cookbook (1903), the electric coffee percolator was making its debut in 1908. In the next five years, Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune would not only publish her autobiography (1910), she would witness the evolution of the kitchen mixer, the waffle iron, and the first in home electric refrigerator. During her career as a writer of books on homemaking, the pop up toaster would be a dream of inventor Charles Strite, (later to be introduced after her death in 1922) she would be able to experience the delights of the stand up mixer introduced for the home by Kitchen-Aid (which is a story in itself) and possibly the electric blender which was invented in 1922 by Stephen Poplawski.

The edition I have in my library of Marion Harland's Common Sense in the Household is copyrighted 1880. Since the book is black, I thought I would rather include an excerpt from the "Familiar Talk with My Reader" section.

You must learn the rudiments of the art yourself. Practice, and practice alone, will teach you certain essentials. The management of the ovens, the requisite thickness of boiling custards, the right shade of brown upon bread and roasted meats, these and dozens of other details are hints which cannot be imparted by written or oral instructions. But, once learned, they are never forgotten, and henceforward your fate is in your own hands. You are mistress of yourself, though servants leave. Have faith in your own abilities. You will be a better cook for the mental training you have received at school and from books.

When Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune died in New York City on June 3, 1922, a newspaper editor wrote, "There is no American city so great, no crossroads village so remote, but the name of ‘Marion Harland’ was as familiar there as if she had been a President of the United States."

1. Marion Harland's Autobiography (1910)
2. New Jersey Women's History
3. Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune @ wikipedia
4. Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery
5. Another bio
6. Miss Leslie's Directions for Cookery by Eliza Leslie (online)
7. The Virginia Housewife (sample recipes)
8.Getting To Know Jennie June (previous post)
9."Just a Housewife": The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America (google reader)

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