Prof. Carol Ann Johnston

Author: ilarrazl

The Afterlife of The American Frugal Housewife

The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child was originally published in 1829 and within the span of a decade had thirty-five editions (“The Frugal Housewife,” 1). My focus is on the twentieth edition, but I examined the fourth edition too, which will be referenced to compare the two editions. The fourth and twentieth editions did not have many noticeable variations within the text itself. There was the addition of a copyright (Figure 1) to differentiate the work from a similarly named text in England. This addition of copyright occurred sometime between the twelfth edition and the twentieth edition.  

Figure 1

Through comparing arbitrary pages between both editions, no differences in the existing shared texts were discovered aside from slight formatting differences. However, the later editions included extra sections of chapters (Figure 2), noted at the beginning of the fourth edition.  

Figure 2

There is no evidence that the twentieth edition was dismembered in any way for the purpose of sharing or selling pieces individually. Certain sections or recipes may have been cut out of other copies, as this book was popular throughout the 1830s, it is likely some readers could have shared the book or sections of it with others (Edwards, 243). If anything, there are additions to this book from previous owners. There are marginalia throughout the fourth edition I examined. I think the notes are related to a recipe’s cost or conversion of measurements, and there is also a lengthy note at the beginning of the book. The notation is about the reader’s preferences for specific recipes, such as one note expanding on preparing sausages. With the letter being at the beginning of the book, it is likely the reader has read the book at least once before and referred to it periodically for recipe ideas. Based on the marginalia, the previous owner of the book preferred easy recipes and side dishes, like sausage. There are also drawings on the back inside cover of the book in both pen and pencil.  


Figures 3 and 4

The twentieth edition is complete with a homemade cover and stitching, an attempt to personalize the book, which suggests its common use in everyday life. The patterned fabric is glued onto the boards of the book and there is loose, guitar string-like, stitching holding the cloth together at its endsThe handmade cover alludes to the sentimental value of this book; its previous owner carefully stitched and designed a handmade cover to decorate and elevate the cookbook, which implies that it was coveted.  

Figure 5

While I could not find the original cost of The American Frugal Housewife, I assume copies of the book were sold at a reasonable price, affordable to those wanting to think more economically. A low cost could also be assumed from the popularity of the book and its thirty-five editions. The editions I examined are not particularly rare or priceless as this book was reprinted a considerable amountThere are many copies of both books circulating, therefore the book is not comparatively valuable, especially the latter editions. When I looked online for copies for sale, I found that most listings of the book are inexpensive and for recently published editions. Reprintings from 1989 can be purchased on Amazon for about fifteen dollars. There is also a paperback edition published in 2017 available for under five dollars. It is interesting to note that the version being sold is the twelfth edition. (“The American Frugal Housewife: Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy,” 1). I wonder why that one has modern popularity. However, two websites list twentieth (CHILD, 1) and twenty-seventh editions (CHILD, Mrs. [Lydia Maria], 1) being sold for $116 and $275, respectively.  

Figures 6 and 7

Dickinson College received this book as a donation from Charles Coleman Sellers, former Librarian of the College (“Charles Coleman Sellers,” 1). The date and year Sellers donated the twentieth edition are unknown, as he gifted the college numerous books over the years. After his death, he left several books to the College but the accounts from his estate do not list specific titles. Due to this uncertainty, there is not much known about how Sellers acquired the book; if it was passed down within his family or as an arbitrary acquisition. There are notes in the front matter of the book which look like dates. This might suggest the book was passed down and the dates are representative of when someone owned it, however, the dates are in the same handwriting so they could also be from a bookseller.  

Figure 8

As this is a recipe and home economics book, meant to be utilized by its reader in the home, it could have been passed down through the family or shared with other friends and relatives. The fourth edition contains significant marginalia and an insert in the front matter with notes on the book’s contents, which could also suggest that it was passed down from generation to generation. However, I cannot confirm this as the records of Sellers’ donations do not contain exact dates and relevant information about each text.  

Prior to research, while I considered if this book were banned, I thought of Lydia Maria Child’s other published works, notably those commenting on gender and race, and wondered if their reception would influence this book. I had originally thought that because of the progressive nature of her previously published works, there could be a target on this book, leading to it being scrutinized and potentially, in an extreme case, banned.  It was interesting, but also not surprising, to find that The American Frugal Housewife was never banned as it was received well and rose to popularity among women. Lydia Maria Child published this book as her husband had accumulated a lot of financial debt, which led Child to consider economic solutions for a household. While she was outspoken about abolition and Women’s Rights, publishing works such as “An Appeal in Favor of Americans Called Africans” and “The History of the Condition of Women, in Various Nations and Ages,” the popularity of her guidebook did not seem to wane. It became a staple in American households, securing a spot in an unexplored market of American books geared towards women (Rushing, 1). 

 To evolve with the modern age of technology, this book has been digitalized a few times, most notably by the Library of Congress, which has a first edition available to view digitally (“The Frugal Housewife: Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy,” 1). In the context of today, some of the information in the book is obsolete, especially some of the phrasing used in the book. However, most of the book is an instructional guide for preparing economical dishes, and many sections focus on preparing and harvesting various foods. While some of the recipes are not as common today, like bird’s nest pudding, the book does provide instructions and tips on creating various dishes with straightforward language that someone could easily follow today. 

Figures 9 and 10


Works Cited 

 “Charles Coleman Sellers (1903-1980).” Charles Coleman Sellers (1903-1980) | Dickinson College, Dickinson Colege , 2005, 

 CHILD, Mrs. “Abebooks.” By CHILD, Mrs. | Librera Antonio Castro, London: Thomas Tegg, 1839., 

 CHILD, Mrs. [Lydia Maria]. “Abebooks.” By CHILD, Mrs. [Lydia Maria]: Good Hardcover (1844) | Between the Covers-Rare Books, Inc. ABAA, Samuel S. & William Wood, New York, 1 Jan. 1970, 

Edwards, Herbert. “Lydia M. Child’s the Frugal Housewife.” The New England Quarterly, Inc. , vol. 26, no. 2, June 1935, pp. 243–249., 

“The American Frugal Housewife: Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy.” Amazon, Samuel S. & William Wood, 

“The Frugal Housewife : Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy.” The Library of Congress, Library of Congress, 

“The Frugal Housewife.” Book by Lydia Maria Child | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster, Simon & Schuster,,and%20economy%20in%20the%20kitchen. 

Rushing, Erin. “Lydia Maria Child: Home Economy and Human Rights.” Smithsonian Libraries and Archives / Unbound, Smithsonian , 21 Dec. 2020, 


The Frugal American Housewife—Origins

Lydia Maria Child was a known author and editor, a Native American Rights and Women’s Rights activist, and abolitionist, with published works about slavery and race; she also authored The Frugal American Housewife. Many of her published works are on topics of race, slavery, and rights, including her work An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans. She received backlash for publishing the piece, leading her to step down as editor to her children’s magazine The Juvenile Miscellany, though she continued to publish works for and about marginalized societal groups (“Lydia Maria Child,” 1). Some of Child’s other works include The Freedmen’s Book and The Mother’s Book (Poetry Foundation, 1). She married David L. Child, an abolitionist and editor, who was also an abolitionist (“Lydia Maria Child,” 1). Some of her other projects are highlighted on the title page of The American Frugal Housewife (See Figure 1). 


Figure 1


The book was printed at the American Stationers’ Company in 1836. This company opened the same year and closed two years later in 1838 (Firms Out of Business, 2). An interesting observation to note is the fourth edition copy I was able to look at was also published in Boston in 1831 but by a different company, Carter, Hendee & Babcock, which underscores how popular this book was, with multiple publishers needed to meet demand. The American Stationers’ Company published other known authors including Nathanial Hawthorne (Christie’s, 1) and informational texts like Atlases (Digital Public Library of America, 1). The Frugal American Housewife was a popular guidebook; therefore, when looking at other texts the American Stationers’ Company had published, it is not unique that they would take interest in Child’s book. Not much is known about the company and why it closed two years after its opening. Further research using the Gale Literature Dictionary of Literary Biography failed to find a reason for the company’s closure, but it confirmed the publishing of some previously mentioned titles. It is interesting that this publishing company went out of business, even with selling a popular book in circulation at the time during their first year of business. My guess is the company may have simply lost business and had plummeting profits, as there is no mention of a merger with another publishing company. In general, I could not find much information about the company other than their published titles. 

After speaking with Dickinson College Archivist Malinda Triller-Doran, I concluded the book is printed on rag-based paper. Pulp-based paper became popular after the publication of this book in the mid-1800s. There is no evident pulp in the paper, and it has not grown brittle with age. Pulp-based paper is more likely to be worn with age as it is cheaper than cloth-based. The publisher made the binding for early copies of the book published in Boston. The binding was made up of boards (compressed cardboard) with blue paper over them (“The Frugal Housewife : Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy,” 1). The eighth and twentieth editions I examined do not have blue paper covers but do have trace elements of paper left on their boards. The twentieth edition has what appears to be an added homemade cover; a patterned cloth sewn on with loose string and glued to the cover (See Figure 2). This decorative element was likely added on after the purchase of the book by a former owner of it.  


Figure 2


The Frugal American Housewife’s publisher Carter, Hendee, & Co. published a variety of books in the 1830s, including other guidebooks and children’s books, like The Child’s Book of American Geography (“The Child’s Book of American Geography,” 1). They also printed works by notable people like John Quincy Adams (Adams, 1). I can assume that Lydia Maria Child did not have an agent as there is no one credited as such, and the first literary agency opened in the late 19th century in the United States, decades after this edition was published (Cottenet, 1). The only reference within the book to editing or corrections is on the title page, which says, “ENLARGED AND CORRECTED BY THE AUTHOR” (Figure 1), however this was likely a marketing tactic to sell newer editions. Child’s husband, David L. Child, was an editor and it is likely he also looked over his wife’s works (David Ruggles Center for History and Education, 1). No other editor is credited on the title page or anywhere else in the book.  

The book has over thirty editions (accounts vary but there are between thirty-two and thirty-five) (“The Frugal Housewife,” 1). I was fortunate enough to look at both the twentieth and the eighth edition. One difference between the editions is that the former includes front matter that reads “It has become necessary to change the tit of this work to the ‘American Frugal Housewife,’ because there is an English work of the same name, not adapted to the wants of this country.” There was an English text titled The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook by Susannah Carter published in the 18th century and focused primarily on cooking (Sotheby’s, 1). The American Frugal Housewife has cooking tips and recipes but also includes materials on etiquette, herbs, and remedies. The changes are significant in emphasizing different activities women participated in depending on the country; what American housewives were interested as opposed to what English housewives were interested in.  

On the title page of this guidebook there are two Benjamin Franklin quotes: “A fat kitchen maketh a lean will” and “Economy is a poor man’s revenue; extravagance, a rich man’s ruin.” These two quotes set the tone of the book as it is filled with recipes, cooking tricks, and remedies. The book is meant for the working class and households without staff and serves as a guide to economically conscious household management. Using Benjamin Franklin, a United States Founding Father, quotes set the tone about how this book is tailored to Americans. This is also shown through the copyright distinction I mentioned previously. It emphasizes the importance of economy in daily life during the 1830s and how it influences the household. 



Works Cited 

Adams. “Dermot MacMorrogh, or the Conquest of Ireland; an Historical Tale of the Twelfth Century. in Four Cantos.” The Online Books Page, 

Christie’s. “HAWTHORNE, Nathaniel (1804-1864). Twice-Told Tales. Boston: American Stationers Co., 1837.”  

Cottenet, Cécile. “Literary Agents.” Transatlantic Cultures, 1 Jan. 1970, 

Digital Public Library of America. “Georgia. (to Accompany) A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial. By T.G. Bradford. Boston: American Stationers’ Company. Entered … 1835, by Thos. G. Bradford … Massachusetts., A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial. By T.G. Bradford. Boston: American Stationers’ Company. Entered … 1835, by Thos. G. Bradford … Massachusetts. (Title Page) Drawn by E. Tisdale, Landscapes by W. Croome. Eng. by J. Andrews., Georgia.”  

Firms Out of Business, 4 Mar. 2023, FOBFirmName=C&locSTARTROW=11  

FOBFirmName=C&locSTARTROW=11 .  


“Lydia Maria Child.” David Ruggles Center for History and Education, 10 Feb. 2021,,family%20breadwinner%20throughout%20their%20marriage. 

“Lydia Maria Child.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 

Sotheby’s. “Carter, Susannah. The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook…[Boston]: [1772].”  

“The Child’s Book of American Geography.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1 Jan. 1970, 

“The Frugal Housewife.” Andrews McMeel Publishing, 4 Mar. 2023, 

“The Frugal Housewife : Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy.” The Library of Congress, 

The Frugal American Housewife (1836)

A twentieth edition of The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child (penned Mrs. Child), published in 1836, originally caught my eye due to its title and binding. To start, the binding of the book is wrapped in patterned cloth (Figures 1 and 2).



                   Figures 1 and 2


The cloth is thin and where it is frayed reveals the material of the binding underneath cardboard in fine paper or leather (Greenfield, 109). Due to the cloth covering, it was challenging to determine what the cover was made of upon first examination. However, I was fortunate enough to examine an earlier edition of this book also housed in the Dickinson College Archives (an eighth edition printed five years earlier; Figure 3).


                          Figure 3

This edition is not bound in cloth and appears to be made from compressed layers of cardboard. This led me to assume that the cover from the twentieth edition was made similarly, if not exactly. The comparison also raised the question of how the cloth cover came to be on the book. It looks homemade, with loose stitches and stings crossing over the inside cover, where the cloth is glued down (Figures 1 and 2). Was it sold that way? Was it a special edition? Did a previous owner sew on a decorative covering?

The title of the book also caught my attention. The term “American Housewife” seems misogynistic now, although in the context of the 19th century the term was seen as socially acceptable. The author was also simply credited as “Mrs. Child,” emphasizing her marriage and husband’s last name. However, upon further research I was surprised to discover that Lydia Maria Child was an abolitionist, Native American Rights activist, and Women’s Rights activist (“Lydia Maria Child,” 1). Her work was successful and had an influence on the general masses. This could be in part because she was a well-known author before publishing this book; her name was recognizable and could have aided in book sales. The book focuses on providing information and tips for moderate and low income households that did not employ staff. A motivation for authoring this book could be accessibility in providing the lower classes with a range of information from cooking to teaching your daughter proper etiquette and learning about herbs and remedies.

The book was published in Boston by the American Stationers’ Company and has thirty-two editions (“American Frugal Housewife,” 1). There is no editor listed. There are 132 pages, including front matter, an index, and a torn blank sheet (Figure 4).


                                 Figure 4

The only front matter the book contains is an introduction chapter, a title page with a black and white publishing logo, and a black and white illustrated diagram of four animals, bodies cut into sections and numbered, with corresponding labels explaining the location of different cuts of meat (Figures 5 and 6).



Figures 5 and 6


After having met with the Dickinson College Archivist Malinda Triller-Doran, I made an educated guess that the paper used is rag-based. Cloth based paper was popular in the early 19th century, with pulp-based paper becoming more mainstream in the mid 1800s as a cheaper alternative (Valente, 2). I think the paper is rag-based due to the date of publication, the lack of noticeable pulp, and the texture. Pulp based paper normally gets brittle with age and moisture, and while there is some water damage present (Figure 7), the paper itself remains in good quality.


Figure 7


In the beginning of the book there is a note that the title was changed to include the word “American” to distinguish it from an English version with the same title for copyright purposes (Figure 8).


Figure 8


The cloth on the cover as mentioned before is frayed and thin, and the cardboard binding makes the book light to carry, in contrast to the hardcover larger cookbooks of today. The binding is coming undone on the cover and the spine is tearing (Figure 9), but the pages are still held tightly together. While there are only a few tears (Figure 10), there are numerous stains throughout the book.



Figures 9 and 10


There is a bit of foxing—dark stains suggesting moisture (Figure 11). There is also a wide stain at the bottom of the book, noticeable on a few pages. This could be suggestive of some sort of spill (Figure 12). As this book was made to be used in the kitchen, the stains could be from dirty hands in a messy kitchen, oil or water. The pages are also slightly warped when looking at the book from the side, suggestive again of moisture (Figure 7). This could be attributed to the book’s storage, and also to a kitchen environment. Because there are so many unknown variables in a kitchen, and so many ingredients, it is hard to identify what might have caused a stain.



Figures 11 and 12


There are ornamentations throughout the book that serve as spaces between passages (Figure 13). I struggled to find the exact font used as I ran multiple pictures through What the Font but came up with nothing. The font looks like and could be Caslon, invented in the 18th century by William Caslon I, or something related (Coale, 1). The introductory chapter has a small Dickinson stamp, a mark of the archives. There are also written numbers in pencil in the front matter (Figure 14). When I met with the archivist, she was not positive as to what the writing meant, however, it appears to be dates: 1874, 1875, 1858. The dates could be markings from when the book switched hands, when the college acquired it (the exact year is not known as the donor, Charles Coleman Sellers, often gifted and sold the college books from his collection, although he was not alive during the dates listed), or notes from a former dealer of the book.



Figures 13 and 14


Works Cited

“American Frugal Housewife.” Applewood Books,

Coale, Brian. “Caslon, When in Doubt, Use Caslon.” Casey Printing – Commercial Printing, Labels & Folded Cartons, 30 Aug. 2013,,1692%E2%80%931766)%20in%201722.

Greenfield, Jane. “Glossary of Book Binding’s Structural Evolution.” ABC of Bookbinding a Unique Glossary with over 700 Illustrations for Collectors & Librarians, Oak        Knoll Press U.a., New Castle U.a., 1998, p. 109.

“Lydia Maria Child.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,

Valente, AJ. “Changes in Print Paper during the 19th Century – Purdue University.” Changes in      

Print Paper During the 19th Century, Purdue University , 2010,



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