Home |Index of Reviews | What's New | Links | Bookstore

History in Review

At Home in Nineteenth-Century America

buy at Amazon.com

At Home in Nineteenth-Century America
A Documentary History
By Amy G. Richter
New York University Press, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-8147-6914-0
Paperback Edition, Illustrated, 272 pages

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - January 19, 2015

When I first picked up a copy of Amy G. Richter's new book, At Home in Nineteenth-Century America: A Documentary History, I did not have any idea if I would even be interested in reading the book, let alone reviewing it. I sat down in my easy chair just planning to skim through the book. Several hours later, I found that I had read the entire book cover to cover!

At Home in Nineteenth-Century America is not your run-of-the-mill history book. Rather it consists of a series of excerpts from period documents that highlight the key cultural, sociological, and material conditions related to American home life in the nineteenth-century. This study presents insights into not only American home life from all economic vantage points, but also from the vantage point of White, Native, and African American viewpoints. The end result is a comprehensive overview of what home life was like in America at this period, and how the government and private institutions tried to manipulate certain groups (notably Native Americans) into conforming to the 'white' ideal of home life, and the type of housing that went along with this ideal.

These excerpts include both personal accounts and essays, as well as government documents, magazine articles, fictional stories, advice manuals, and much more. All the excerpts are annotated with tidbits of information about their source and which help place the excerpt within the historical context of the period and how they relate to other accounts in the book.

Richter, who is an Associate Professor of History at Clark University, has compiled a remarkable collection of documents that are essential reading for anyone interested in American cultural history or women's studies related to this period. Be forewarned. This book merely gives you a taste of the various documents that are available for you to read. It will definitely leave your wanting more, so keep a pen and paper handy to note down all the items that you want to read in full. The source for each excerpt is noted and, in addition, at the end of the book Richter has included an annotated list of secondary reading sources that will keep you reading for quite some time.

This book includes numerous illustrations and the excerpts are gathered into thematic chapters such as The Emergence of the Nineteenth-Century Domestic Ideal, the Persistence of Domestic Labor, and At Home in Late Nineteenth-Century City. Some of the excerpts in this book are from works that you may already be familiar with such as an excerpt from Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House. Other excerpts are from more obscure resources, which only serves to make them more delectable for the reader.

At Home in Nineteenth-Century America: A Documentary History is a supplemental text for both high school and college classes, and as a starting point for students looking to explore this subject in greater detail. This book will also enthrall general readers. All the excerpts in this book are short and easy to absorb. You can read the book straight through, or skip around, reading only those excerpts that strike your interest. Most important, this book provides readers with a unique glimpse into a bygone era, a glimpse that is sure to encourage them to delve deeper into the study of American domesticity, and how it changed, over the course of the nineteenth-century.

Amy G. Richter is also the author of, Home on the Rails: Women, the Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticity.

Related Reviews:

Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America, by Margaret M. McGuinness.
A concise survey of the history of Catholic women religious in American.

A Lady's Ranch Life in Montana, by Isabel F. Randall.
A collection of letters that offers a unique glimpse into frontier life in Montana in the late 1880's. This text has been edited by Richard L. Saunders, who as incorporated a wealth of explanatory notes and references to the original text.

The American Family in the Colonial Period, by Arthur W. Calhoun.
A sociological study of colonial American family life and how Old World attitudes and family dynamics and traditions were adapted to meet the conditions encountered in the New World.

Back to top

Questions or Comments? Send an email to:

Copyright History in Review 2015 - All Rights Reserved