March is Women’s History Month! A time to celebrate the accomplishments of women’s rights activists past and present, from suffragette Susan B. Anthony to author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. One author who will not be celebrated is Gervase Markham, compiler of The English Housewife, an instructional guide for 17th–century women. Peppered between recipes and remedies, Markham offered sexist views on the ideal English wife that readers today may find laughable. Here are three of his most outrageous pieces of advice.
1. Remember ladies, you are not as smart as a man!
The first chapter of The English Housewife deals with colonial medicine. Since there were few doctors, a proper wife needed a working knowledge of folk medicine to care for her family. But Markham reminds his readers not to overestimate their abilities because “the depth and secrets of the most excellent art of physics is far beyond the capacity of the most skillful woman, as lodging only in the breast of learned professors.”
2. Have opinions? Keep them to yourself!
According to Markham, a woman’s most important attribute is her modesty. This modesty extends not only to her outward appearance but her inward temperament. The ideal wife is pleasant and agreeable at all times. She refrains from criticizing her husband, for “uncomely language is deformed though uttered even to servants, but most monstrous and ugly when it appears before the presence of a husband.”
3. If you’re a terrible cook, don’t bother getting married!
A staunch supporter of traditional gender roles, Markham believed that a woman’s place was in the home, including the kitchen. His book contains countless recipes for cakes and pies, as well as an overview of home brewing, then considered to be a feminine domain. Markham explains that a woman who is ignorant of her domestic duties “cannot then perform half her vow; for she may love and obey, but she cannot serve [her husband] with the true duty that is to be expected.”
Thankfully, The English Housewife represents just one person’s idea of the perfect colonial wife, and not all women actually lived up to these ridiculous standards. Check out our blog for more examples of awesome colonial women!
Source: Markham, Gervase. The English Housewife. Edited by Micheal R. Best. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986.