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BOOK REVIEWS349 The Limits ofSisterhood: The Beecher Sisters on Women 's Rights and the Woman's Sphere. By Jeanne Boydston, Mary Kelley, and Anne Margolis. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Pp. 395. $32.00.) In a letter of 1 852, Harriet Beecher Stowe explained why she had written Uncle Tom 's Cabin and how, as a wife and mother, she had come to be an author in the first place. Grief at the death of her own son moved her to portray "what a poor slave mother may feel when her child is torn away from her." And she said, bluntly, when "family accounts wouldn't add up," she had someone else take care of her babies and shut herselfaway to write for money. To Stowe, political and pecuniary motives meshed easily with her self-definition as a mother. So we learn from The Limits ofSisterhood, a splendid new study ofCatharine, Harriet, and Isabella Beecher that critically examines the experience, ideology, and politics of domesticity in nineteenth-century America, exposing the multiple meanings and conflicting uses of the domestic code as reflected in the lives and writings of three exemplary sisters. The Limits ofSisterhood is a notable accomplishment. It is a carefully edited collection ofdocuments, which works not only as documentary history but also as narrative. It creatively weaves together three lives into a composite whole. It perceptively mediates between the particularities ofthe Beecher sisters' thought and the wider debate over the proper scope of woman's power as guardian of the home: her right to extend her supposedly superior moral influence into the public sphere. And it analyzes both the representative aspects of the Beecher sisters' experience and the prerogatives offamily, class, and race that divided them from other women for whom they presumed to speak—Harriet as a writer, Catharine as an educational reformer, and Isabella as a women's rights leader. The Limits of Sisterhood fulfills the double entendre of its title, documenting differences among the sisters (Catharine opposed abolitionism and woman suffrage, Harriet and Isabella differed over "free love") and showing how these resonated with wider splits in nineteenth-century reform. It demonstrates conclusively that neither sisterly bonds nor the prevailing ideology ofdomesticity necessarily yielded a common agenda for three sisters, much less for female reformers. The documents—letters and excerpts from published works—detail the sisters' formative years and family relations, their mature views on womanhood, and the political and personal rifts that divided them. In introductory essays, Boydston, Kelley, and Margolis offer insightful and often beautifully written interpretations of the protagonists and their milieu , greatly enhancing the collection's value both to students and experts in social and women's history. The authors also have thoroughly combed the archives: the Beecher sisters speak candidly about parents and siblings, marriage and professions, child-rearing, sexuality, and health, and are 350CIVIL WAR history equally articulate about slavery, theology, education, law, and women's rights. The collection shows that domestic ideology, no less than natural rights theory, provided an intellectual foundation for abolitionism. And it sheds new light on the politics of domesticity, disclosing the complicated links between the sexual segregation ofwoman in the family and arguments for gender equality. What The Limits ofSisterhood does not explore is how public events intruded into and transformed thedomestic world inhabited by women like the Beechers. Little is said of the Civil War, for example, what toll it took, whether it led the Beecherwomen, as so many others, to take up new fields of reform work. But to understand the politics of domesticity we need to know, too, how state and society pervaded the home. That may be to ask for a companion volume to this superb collection. Amy Dru Stanley University of California, Irvine The Paddy Camps: The Irish of Lowell, 1821-61. By Brian C. Mitchell. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988. Pp. xiii, 247. $24.95.) In herclassic memoir Loom and Spindle (1898; rev. ed., 1976), Harriet Hanson Robinson described thefactory population ofLowell in the early 1830s as a hierarchy of four classes: the corporation agents, the overseers, the operatives, and the Irish "lords of the spade and the shovel, by whose...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 349-350
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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