About this Gallery

30 Nov

Before the women’s rights movement began in the late nineteenth century, women in the United States were expected to be wives, mothers, and submissive to their husbands. This gallery represents the “Desperate Housewives” of America, from women who are subjected to domestic chores to slave women who are conflicted with the decision of whether or not to kill their children. It includes artifacts that reveal sentiments toward women during early America, as well as artifacts that reveal the ways women felt during this time.


Poems on Marriage

29 Nov

This artifact was published in Boston in 1832. The poems “Single, Married, and Married Happy” and “The Wife for Me” each depict the idea of “Desperate Housewives” because they articulate the superficial qualities in wives that many men of this time period desired. For example, in “Single, Married, and Married Happy,” the narrator states that few men live better than a bachelor, which reveals that he believes the men without wives are the happiest and most content. Next, the narrator lists the attributes of wives that men desire: ease, grace, a pretty walk, a nice figure, and an attractive face. The speaker states that he would like his own wife to be sincere and to love him dearly. The qualifications for a wife that the speaker lists are all vain and belittling. He reveals that what the majority of men desire in a wife is physical beauty. “The Wife for Me” expresses a similar desire, as the speaker of this poem wants a wife who will talk with him, be kind, and smile. He wants her to take care of him when he’s sick and share in his joy, and kiss him. In both poems, the speakers reveal that the men of the time period want the same thing out of a wife- attraction. This artifact fits into the category of “Desperate Housewives” because the speakers of the poem demonstrate that many men only desire a physical body and a woman who take care of them.

Source: American Broadsides and Ephemera Series I. no. 4224

Sermons to Young Women

28 Nov

These artifacts are from a sermon by Reverend Dr. Fordyce, which was published in 1767 in Boston. The first image is the title page, the second image is the first page of the chapter titled “On Female Virtue with Domestic and Elegant Accomplishments,” and the third image is the second page of this chapter. These images relate to “Desperate Housewives” because of the content of the sermons. It states, “[Women] were manifestly intended to be the mothers and formers of a rational and immortal offspring; to be a kind of softer companions, who, by nameless delightful sympathies and endearments, might improve our pleasures and sooth our pains; to lighten the load of domestic cares, and by that means leave us more at leisure for labour … to degrade them from so honorable a station indicates a mixture of ignorance… and barbarity.” This sermon states that it is a woman’s duty to become a wife and mother and care for her husband. Fordyce’s sermon reveals that he believes that women were put on the planet to serve men. These artifacts reveal that even religious leaders supported the idea that females are inferior to men, and also further solidifies the notion that this was a commonly held belief  of the time. The other chapters of this sermon discuss the clothing women should wear and the virtues women should hold. Fordyce’s sermon reveals that women were considered inferior to men during the 17oos.

Source: Early American Imprints, Series 1, no. 41707

Alice Cary

28 Nov

This artifact is female author Alice Cary’s poem “Pretty is that Pretty Does,” which was published in 1867. In this poem, Cary uses a the metaphor of spider and its web to discuss a woman and her home. The last stanza of the poem reveals the “Desperate Housewife” when Cary writes, “To see the spider set and spin,/ shut with the web of silver in,/ You would never, never, never guess/ The way she gets her dinner!”  The spider, which represents a housewife, is described as being confined to the web. The wife the poem is about, then, is understood to be confined to her house. The second stanza of the poem also reveals the “Desperate Housewife” of the poem, as she is described as always appearing to be content, yet on the inside she is unhappy and planning her escape.

This poem may also be a reflection of Alice Cary’s own life. When her mother passed away, her new stepmother was unsupportive of her dreams to be a writer. She, instead, insisted that Alice help with household duties. Just as the spider appears to be content in the poem, Alice obliged and helped her step mother, but always had and aspiration of being an author. She, too, can then be viewed as a “Desperate Housewife” of American poetry.

Source: From 1867 Cultivator & Country Gentleman Magazine




Maria White Lowell

28 Nov

This version of “The Slave Mother,” by Maria White Lowell, was published in 1907. It is an artifact that fits into the category of “Desperate Housewives” because it is about a slave mother who wants her child to die so that she does not have to endure what she endures as a slave. Lowell was an ardent abolitionist, and this poem reveals her attempt to capture the emotions of the slaves who were forced to make the decision of killing their child or allowing it to live as a slave. She reveals the mother’s desperation in deciding wether or not to let her child live when she states, “She cannot look upon that face, where, in the child’s pure bloom, Is writ with such dread certainty the woman’s loathsome doom.” Slave mothers killing their children was very common during the time of slavery. This poem tells a story that was a reality for many women, and reveals the desperation these women felt. 

Source: http://books.google.com/books?id=Bo_UAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA25&lpg=PA25&dq=the+slave+mother+maria+lowell&source=bl&ots=gOYc_Yd9gH&sig=FMToezgODoeLmzs5-70T3t4wm38&hl=en&ei=LaHVTtzaBeOhiQLov6TJDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CB0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false


(The Poems of Maria Lowell; Cambridge: The Riverside Press. 1907)

The Slave Mother’s Lament

28 Nov

This artifact is from Frederick Douglass’ Paper in New York in 1855. It depicts a different kind of “Desperate Housewife,” because she is, perhaps, the most desperate kind of housewife. “The Slave Mother’s Lament” describes a slave woman who has a child, and wishes that her newborn would die so that he would not have to endure the hardships she faces as a slave. The poem describes the work the woman does as a slave, from morning until night picking cotton. In the poem, the woman wishes she had a heart of stone so that she would not have to feel the pain she feels. The woman’s desperation truly shows when she wishes death upon her own child. Her life as a slave is so difficult that she would rather her newborn die than struggle the way she has struggled. This poem represents the desperation the slaves felt during this period, and especially the desperation of the slaves who were also mothers. Many women slaves were forced to give their child up to their owners, and their child was often sold to someone else. While before the Women’s Rights Movement many women lacked civil rights, the slave women did not even have the right to their own children. It is for this reason that “The Slave Mother’s Lament” is of paramount importance to “Desperate Housewives” of American poetry.



Collection: African American Newspapers
Date: November 23, 1855

Frances Sargent Osgood

27 Nov

“Call Me Pet Names” by Frances Sargent Osgood was published in 1871 in Philadelphia. It is an excellent depiction of “Desperate Housewives.” It is about a woman who is vying for attention from a man, and giving in to the conventions and expectations of American society in the 1870s. Her desperation is revealed in lines such as, “O, my sad heart is pining for one fond word!” What makes this housewife desperate is her need for her husband’s attention and approval. She wants him to love her and enjoy her company. She even tells the man that she will worship him. She states, “Let my fond worship thy being enfold./ Love me forever, and love me alone.” This housewife is desperate for her husband to love her, and only her, for forever. She is unable to feel sufficient on her own, which is the way many women thought they were supposed to feel during this time period.

Source: American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1, no. 24309

Married Man’s Fare and Bachelor’s Fare

27 Nov

These two poems, written by unknown American authors, each exemplify “Desperate Housewives” of American poetry. “Married Man’s Fare” was published in 1840. In the poem, the married man’s wife’s duty is described as “promoting his comfort, dispelling dejection with smiles of affection, and sympathizing.  The wife’s job, according to this poem, is to make her husband happy. This relates to “Desperate Housewives” because the woman has no life of her own. According to this poem, her sole purpose is to cater to her husband and his needs.  “Bachelor’s Fare” was also published in 1840. In this poem, on the other hand, the wife is described as annoying her husband. It states, “A wife, like a cannister, chattering, clattering… hurries and worries him until he is dead.” As opposed to the wife in “Married Man’s Fare,” the wife in this poem is a burden to her husband. There is no appreciation shown for the wife. Between the two poems, women are depicted as either annoying their husbands, or devoting themselves fully and only to their husbands. These two poems represent “Desperate Housewives” because although they depict two different types of wives, both of the wives they depict are subordinate to the men of the household.

Source (Married Man’s Fare): American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1, no. 5587

Source (Bachelor’s Fare): American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1, no. 5565

John Haley Bellamy

27 Nov

J.H. Bellamy, although a male poet, depicts the “Desperate Housewife” in his poem, “Little Wife.” This poem was published in 1865 in New Hampshire. Before reading the poem, it is clear just from the title that Bellamy is diminishing his wife by calling her “little.” Throughout the poem, this housewife is depicted as someone who simply fixes buttons on clothing, provides her husband with kisses, and greets her husband when he comes home. This artifact represents “Desperate Housewives” because it is about a woman who is being suffocated by her domestic roles. In fact, the descriptions of the wife only reveal ways in which she helps her husband. This makes it seem as though the speaker only views his wife as his own support. The wife in the poem is not described as being anywhere outside the confines of the household, which was typically expected of women during this time period. This poem reflects the expectations of women that were held by the majority of males in society during this time before the women’s rights movement.


Source: American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series 1, no. 1117

Anne Bradstreet

27 Nov

This artifact is the title page to a book of poetry by Anne Bradstreet. It was published in 1758, which is many years after her  death, in Boston, Massachusetts. The subtitle “Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning” and the lack of a named author reveal a lot about the time in which it was published. Instead of naming the author, the title page simply states “a Gentlewoman in New England.” Women were rarely educated during Anne Bradstreet’s time, the seventeenth century, and were certainly not well respected as authors. The subtitle is significant because it seems as though it is included in order to justify the book of poetry bring written by a woman. Further, the subtitle stating “full of delight” seems like another attempt to convince others to read the poetry. It is not only Bradstreet’s title page that justifies her authorship as a female, however. Even her poetry, such as “An Author to Her Book” attempts to lessen criticism  it will receive because she is a woman. Anne Bradstreet is a “Desperate Housewife” because she is not able to simply be an author, she must be diminished as a gentlewoman author.

Source: Early American Imprints, Series I: 1639-1800. no. 8091