To Whom It May Concern

19th Century Feminist Responses to "A Letter of Genteel and Moral Advice"

Book 7 of 8:

Woman's share in primitive culture.

Frontispiece and title page

By Otis Tufton Mason.
With numerous illustrations.
New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1894.
The anthropological series, edited by Professor Frederick Starr.

295 pages, 20 cm (8vo) -- Signatures: [1]-228 -- Maroon cloth covers with gilt on spine and front cover; front board blind stamped with series information. -- Lovejoy Library catalog record.

Mason was an anthropologist interested in the material culture of Native Americans. In Woman's Share in Primitive Culture, he addresses 19th century feminism, stating:

There is at the present time a great awakening among women as to their own attributes and functions and capabilities. They are seriously inquiring for the roads that will conduct them to their largest and noblest development. ... But could any study lead them to truer success than the careful review of those activities and occupations through which they contributed so much to the general mass of happiness? (p. 273)

At Mason's time, Western anthropology interpreted nonindustrialized indigenous societies as representative of earlier "primitive" cultures. Thus studying the role of women in contemporary indigenous cultures would reveal the role of women over the history of civilization. Mason's thesis extends this understanding to inform women's roles in modern industrialized society.

The reader predicts Mason's conclusion that women's primacy in cooking and textiles persuades for their modern legitimacy. But the book doesn't monolithically defend female domesticity. When discussing woman as "the founder of society," Mason declares:

England acquired her globe-encircling empire under the reign of women. Brilliant examples of women skilled and potent in statecraft are not wanting among all civilized nations. The testimony of the best observers is to the effect that in primitive society there were queens in fact if not in name. Nothing is more natural than that the author of parental government, the founder of tribal kinship, the organizer of industrialism, should have much to say about that form of housekeeping called public economy. (p. 240)

Mason's book counteracts the felt threat evidenced earlier in Old Maids. Powerful women acting in society need not be feared as unnatural beings after all. Mason's view of the inherent femininity of "statecraft" contrasts dramatically with John Burton's assessment a century before in Lectures on Female Education and Manners. But the requirement that women must defend their actions as in some way "natural" or "feminine" is limiting.

The book's illustrations are nineteen relief halftone plates with additional relief halftone and line block illustrations integrated with the text.

Pages 272-273