Printer Friendly

Less work for "Mother": rural readers, farm papers, and the makeover of "The Revolt of 'Mother'".

The powerful reverberations of Mary Wilkins Freeman's "The Revolt of 'Mother'" lasted for decades. (1) The story, which connected issues of gender, control of finances on the farm, and the role of the home in keeping the family united, was read in city and rural homes, high school and college classrooms, and was performed in public readings and amateur theatricals. It furnished a starting point for early twentieth-century discussions of the lives of farm women and inspired other stories about farm women's control of finances and improving the lives of rural families. One such story was Nina Sutherland Purdy's "Mothering: The Story of a Revolt" (1916), reprinted here.

Nina (pronounced Nine-uh) Sutherland Purdy was born in Delaware County in rural New York in 1889, the year before "The Revolt of 'Mother'" was published. Her stories and articles appeared intermittently from 1915 through the 1940s in venues ranging from the elite, like the children's magazine St. Nicholas, to the popular. Her writings included two children's books, a 1916 antiwar story entitled "The Safety-Pin," a series of "Mandy" stories published in Woman's World (discussed below), a group of biographical articles in the 1920s for Everybody's Magazine, and pieces for pulp magazines like Love Story and All-Story Cavalier Weekly. Purdy also worked on at least one radio serial. Despite her range of venues, however, she seems to have published sporadically. She married three times and lived in New York City as a writer. Making her own compromise between rural and city life, however, she spent part of each year at the family farm in Downsville, dying nearby in 1952. Purdy's own movement between rural and city life as an educated woman with a BS and an MA was representative of larger trends of the time. These biographical details and the publication circumstances of both "Mother" stories illuminate the relationship between Mary Wilkins Freeman's 1890 "Revolt of 'Mother'" and its 1916 partial namesake.


Purdy's five stories for Woman's World in 1915 and 1916 are about the forward-looking Mandy, head of the Benson Hollow Women's Neighborhood Improvement Society and a central character in "Mothering: The Story of a Revolt." Mandy encourages women around her to be more sympathetic mothers and to enjoy themselves. (2) Unlike an earlier generation of regional writers who were attentive to the specifics of their localities, Purdy created characters who speak a kind of all-purpose country dialect, as though to give them a rural tone but not to exclude readers who lived in different parts of the country. Characters in Mandy's Benson Hollow, for example, speak roughly the same dialect as do characters in "Honeymoon Overdue," a later story set among nineteenth-century southern New Jersey lumbermen. Purdy's stories, then, represent a new offspring of regionalism: ruralism without region. Sinclair Lewis's Main Street exemplifies such work, suggesting that the small town locale is representative rather than specific: "The town is, in our tale, called 'Gopher Prairie, Minnesota.' But its Main Street is the continuation of Main Streets everywhere. The story would be the same in Ohio or Montana, in Kansas or Kentucky or Illinois, and not very differently would it he told Up York State or in the Carolina hills" (3). Although Purdy herself was from New York's Catskill Mountains, in "Mothering" and her other stories for Woman's World, Benson Hollow is located in indeterminate rural space, unanchored in specific landscape or history. Even its cows, hay, and strawberries could be raised nearly anywhere.

Instead of regional specifics, the stories emphasize tension between the farm and the alluring city. This pull between rural and urban life was highly relevant in the 1910s, which saw the beginnings of a national discussion of farm life that focused on women. Theodore Roosevelt's 1908 Country Life Commission suggested that farm women be helped with their heavy workloads; a 1913 Department of Agriculture survey followed. The revelation that women were streaming out of rural areas at a greater rate than men prompted further inquiry. Woman's World identified its readership--perhaps more accurately termed its market niche--as this very group. In the 1910s, as it presented this readership to advertisers as a selling strength, the magazine was alert both to the discontents of farm life and the ways those dissatisfactions might be ameliorated through the offerings of its advertisers.

A cheap, Chicago-based mail-order magazine selling for twenty-five cents a year, Woman's World claimed a circulation of two million in 1916 when Purdy's story appeared (Editorial). While more expensive elite magazines like Harper's ($5 a year) and the somewhat cheaper middle-class magazines like the Ladies' Home Journal ($1.50 a year by 1903) chiefly advertised brand-name nationally distributed commodities that could be purchased at retailers, mail-order magazines were supported by ads for goods bought directly. Mail-order magazines' advertisers had assumed that their dispersed, rural readers were not always close enough to stores to buy brand-name products. The situation was shifting in the 1910s. (3) In 1914, Woman's World published a booklet addressed to potential advertisers that made much of the shopping opportunities of a typical small town, interviewing storekeepers about their customers' buying habits and brand awareness. It attempted to rehabilitate rural consumers in the eyes of national advertisers of brand-name goods, focusing on the prosperity and mobility of farm families, whose growing number of automobiles let them travel to town to shop and see motion pictures. The booklet reported that the largest group of its subscribers lived in towns with populations of under one thousand. Woman's World had, in other words, identified the rural situation of their readership as a selling point, something to display and enlarge upon to their potential advertisers. These demographics were salient to the editorial side of the magazine, as well. Although Woman's World generally disregarded the events of the larger world, managing to ignore the Great War throughout 1916, for example, it did concern itself with an important rural issue: the flow of large numbers of young people, especially women, from farms to towns and cities.

Various stories and features in Woman's World, addressed this problem by depicting farm women who go to the city only to find it lonely or disappointing. Other contributions attempted to block the flow from farm to city by extolling the strengths and virtues of rural life. In another of Purdy's stories featuring Mandy, "Opening Jean's Eyes," the protagonist helps a young college graduate recognize that there are intelligent, well-read people on farms around her, so that she need not move to the city for further education or to engage in social work. Woman's World stories and features did, however, need to address the discontents of farm women and did so by asserting that women's dissatisfaction with farm life stemmed from a lack of cultural opportunities and amenities. One columnist attributed "the cityward trend of the farmwoman" to rural women's desire for "music and art and all the great civilized influences which rough man is prone to neglect," a claim echoed elsewhere. As Bailey Millard points out, compared to city amusements and arts, "her churn and her chickens seemed petty, wearisome affairs" (30). Magazines like Woman's World focused on problems with solutions that the magazine and its advertisers could supply. "Mothering: The Story of a Revolt," like other works in the magazine, suggested that farm women needed the advantages of the genteel arts and more pleasant surroundings to make staying on the farm more attractive. Access to such advantages would not only make their own and their daughters' lives more agreeable, but would also make the women less harried and more companionable mothers, thus cementing their daughters' relationships to the farm.


The physical hardships of farm women's lives were substantial. Studies pointed to the contrast between the amount of capital invested in the farm home and that invested in livestock, fields, and barns, noting that houses on farms that used modern technology often lacked indoor plumbing. According to Donald B. Marti, a 1920 survey of relatively prosperous farms found that "68 percent [of farm women] fetched water" for cooking, drinking, and washing "from outdoor pumps," which froze in cold weather (74). Woman's World acknowledged this situation but kept its focus on problems that required less capital investment than the electric plant needed to run indoor plumbing in the years before rural electrification.

Gender inequality in the control of finances was a longstanding issue in farm life. In brief, it meant that the most money was spent on technology for the men's domains--on livestock, fields, and barns--while little was done to ease farm women's lives. The issue even entered the pages of elite magazines, such as Harper's Monthly, where "The Revolt of 'Mother'" drew readers' attention to the problem with its focus on the conflict between Adoniram Penn's choice to spend money on a new barn and more livestock while his family continues to live in the decrepit house he had promised to replace forty years earlier. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, periodicals directed to farm families also published articles addressing this issue. (4) Robert G. Hays notes that the Ohio Farmer, for example, "frequently carried short story fiction about farm wives rebelling against stingy husbands who put crops and livestock ahead of home improvements, a common story line in many of the farm magazines of the day. These usually achieved a happy ending by having the farmer see the error of his ways" (xv). One such story in Successful Farming--"The Bell Strike" by Leilia M. Ellefson--featured an entire family on strike, camping out on an island to change a tight-fisted farmer's ways. But Silas Bell's failure to buy his child a doll, pay reasonable wages to his sons, or give his wife enough money to buy a dress are ultimately attributed to his personal fault of stinginess and not to the larger issue of gender imbalance.

At least two stories in farm women's periodicals move beyond the realm of individual personality flaws to focus on gender and thus present a broader critique. In Nellie F. Jolly's "Millie Waters' Declaration of Independence: Self Respect Creates Respect from Others" in the Farmer's Wife, for example, the mother of five small children watches her husband go off to the town's Independence Day celebration to get drunk. She declares her own independence by selling the farm's unpenned hogs to a sympathetic friend, and thus at one stroke rids herself of the onerous task of feeding hogs, improves the filthy yard, and garners the money to buy screen doors, wallpaper, and clothes for herself and her children. Like Purdy, Jolly uses the language of robbery, as discussed below: Millie Waters declares that she has robbed her children of a mother, a declaration given weight by a scene in which she milks the cows before nursing her own crying infant. Millie's new clothes prod her abusive husband to see in her once again the girl he married and to mend his ways. In Addie Frankenberger's "Managing Daddy," published in the Farmer's Wife, Nellie, the modern daughter, presses her mother to set aside her endless work for the day to attend a Sunday school picnic, though her husband John demands more work of her. They leave him to cook for himself and the three extra men he has invited to dinner, using the kitchen's cracked stove and broken table. The women return to find that John has learned his lesson and bought a fine new stove and a new dining-room set. When Nellie teases him about it, he says, "[D]on't you lead your mother into too much revolt," and then promises to build a new house, as well. Frankenberg's glancing references to Freeman anchor her more fairytale-like work, as though Freeman's lesson made the pedagogy of stove and table intelligible to John, who draws the proper conclusion by offering a house, as well as kitchen improvements. Jolly's and Frankenberg's emphasis on purchasing new clothing and furniture highlights the fact that the Farmer's Wife, like Woman's World, depended on advertising. As Janet Galligani Casey observes, the Farmer's Wife "mediated between a romanticized bourgeois women's culture and the realities of women's lives on farms," assuming at times that men and women had separate economic interests on the farm, through articles, stories, and ads elaborating the possibilities of lightening women's agricultural and household work and emphasizing rural mothers' duty to keep their children on the farm (182). (5)


I will briefly summarize Freeman's "The Revolt of 'Mother'" to highlight Purdy's complex engagement with it. Sarah Penn's husband Adoniram has promised her a new house for the forty years since their marriage, but he has continued to put up new barns instead. Another new barn is under construction. Meanwhile, their daughter, Nanny, is about to be married in their dilapidated parlor and plans to bring her new husband to live with the family. Sarah asks again about a new house, but to no effect. The new barn will mean more cows, she learns from her son. Yet the house is already inadequate for the dairy work, such as butter making, that is part of her job. Nanny is not strong and needs her mother's help. Despite her anger, Sarah continues to cook and attend to her husband's wants. When Adoniram is called away for several days to buy a horse, Sarah takes it as a sign from Providence and moves the family into the clean new barn: the "great box-stalls, with quilts hung before them, would make better bedrooms than the one she had occupied for forty years. ... The harness-room, with its chimney and shelves, would make a kitchen of her dreams" (74-75). Neighbors, including the minister, come to remonstrate with her, but she is steadfast; when Adoniram returns, he is dumbstruck and acquiesces.

As I have noted above, Freeman's story was initially published in Harper's Monthly, an elite magazine that, as Richard H. Brodhead has argued, positioned its urban and town readers as tourists or voyeurs in "a steeply hierarchized plan of culture" (138). While this situation may have allowed urban middle-class readers a comfortable sense of their own superior understanding, other readers found their way into the magazine's stories without feeling like interlopers. Elite monthlies themselves assumed that some farm families were potential subscribers. According to Nancy Glazener, ads for Harper's, Scribner's, and Cosmopolitan appeared in the American Agriculturalist (202). Used magazines, including Harper's and the Atlantic Monthly, circulated in rural communities. (6) Rural readers could also connect with writers like Freeman in publications addressed explicitly to them. Freeman contributed to less prestigious magazines with wider readerships than the elite monthlies and was widely published by newspaper syndicates through which she reached hundreds of thousands of readers of all classes, including the rural New Englanders she wrote about, Charles Johanningsmeier has found (71-72). "Revolt" was not syndicated, but the story circulated to nonelite papers by the informal circuit of "exchanges," a process by which dailies and weeklies into the 1890s reprinted stories and articles without paying the authors. Freeman's story made its way into at least one such paper (still unidentified), as evidenced by a scrapbook where it was saved (Baxter scrapbook). (7) Moreover, it was the basis for many recitations and theatricals over two decades (8) and appeared in many anthologies, including some for high school use.

In 1917, Freeman complained that "The Revolt of 'Mother'" was the story "by which I consider myself lamentably best known" ("Who's Who" 25). Even by 1910, the title phrase had become something of a touchstone. Journalists writing stories that involved help for mothers as a group were drawn to it. For example, a 1910 article on the meeting of the National Congress of Mothers reassured readers that mothers were headed for pedestals and that there had been "no general 'Revolt of Mother,' as Mary E. Wilkins so graphically and sympathetically described. It is not in the nature of mothers to revolt" ("Mother is Coming into Her Own"). An argument for vacations for mothers, on the other hand, begins with the assertion that "years ago, when Mary Wilkins Freeman wrote 'The Revolt of Mother' the reading world gasped, sat up and took notice of 'mother's' claims to consideration" ("Why Not Give Mother a Rest?"). Journalists in areas as far from New England and the Harper's subscription base as Charlotte, North Carolina, or Biloxi, Mississippi, could assume that their readers would recognize the reference to a mother's taking problems into her own hands. Furthermore, by then it was possible to frame it as a story rooted in the past that still had currency. By 1916 the widely reprinted, dramatized, and performed story had become such a familiar point of reference for discussion of the hardships of farm women's lives that Purdy could stretch its concerns to cover new territories: women's discontent with farm life, which was causing a gender-imbalanced exodus from rural areas, and changing expectations of the mother-child relationship.


Both Freeman's and Purdy's stories turn on the gendered control of resources. They foreground the tension between the farm's dual role as a home and a center of production, resulting in conflict between using resources for people or for agriculture. While both stories argue that human comfort is necessary for the better operation of the farm, Purdy's story luxuriates in the particulars of creating domestic comfort and aesthetic pleasure, well beyond hanging quilts in front of the box stalls. Purdy mutes the rebellious feminist message of Freeman's story in favor of the emotional payoff to the mother via her improved relationship with her daughter and the pleasures of the fruits of consumption. As I will explain, Purdy thus picks up on a strain of interpretation of Freeman's story that was perhaps more evident to its initial readers.

Purdy appropriates several elements of Freeman's story. Like Sarah Penn, Purdy's protagonist, Mary Dingman, has dedicated her life to the farm's success, and she wishes to keep her daughter on the farm with her. In both stories, the children are paired with their parents along gender lines: The daughters' needs precipitate their mothers' push for human comfort, while the younger brothers are shadowy figures allied with their fathers' orientation toward capital--either embodied in the farm's physical plant or in education. While the mother-daughter relationship catalyzes the events of Freeman's story, it takes over the center of Purdy's, responding to concerns about women leaving the farm, as well as to the new expectation that mothers were to provide emotional companionship as well as physical nurturing.


Mary Dingman is worn, fretful, and growing old before her time. Like Sarah Penn, she works hard, in this case to educate her daughter Ellen and son Ben. Jule, the narrating neighbor, critiques this attitude, observing that Mary has been "martyring" herself "to give to others. ... [T]hat kind of unselfishness never accomplished anything, and that was one of the reasons why so many mothers made a fizzle of their motherhood" (12). Mary is angry that her unappreciative daughter plans to spend part of the summer with a friend instead of at home. Her friend's mother, Ellen explains to the visiting neighbors, is more of a companion to her than her own mother. After Ellen leaves, Mandy, a neighbor who has accompanied the narrator to the farmhouse, lectures Mary that she's worn herself out, giving too much and taking nothing: "You've slaved to give Ellen food and clothes and schooling, and you've lost yourself. You've ... taken her mother away from her and given her a machine to work for her instead. ... Take time to rest and think and play, and surprise Ellen when she comes home at the end of the week and when she sees you she'll want to stay home" (13).


Mandy, though a farm woman too, advocates consumption as the modern way of life. A central part of Mandy's prescription is to fix up the house. Not trusting events to Providence as Sarah Penn did, Mandy has her husband take Mary's husband to a convention with him. Mary takes the money she has put aside to pay for her son's agriculture school, and Mary, Mandy, and Jule make over the house so that Ellen will want to stay. The story dwells on the aesthetics of the change: on buying and covering items in rose-covered cretonne or white paint and on the farmhouse's hidden potential for modern stylishness. The decorating ideas are drawn from something Mary "had read in a woman's magazine" (44); Woman's World had recently published a two-part article on redecorating a house into bright modishness for eighty dollars (Fales). Paint, wallpaper, and dress patterns were among the products advertised in Woman's World.

At the Dingmans, the transformation is completed with the sewing of dainty new clothes for Mary; when she wears them, her face is no longer lined, a point amplified in the illustrations. The story intriguingly joins modern consumption--buying paint, wallpaper, and fabric for upholstery, curtains, and new clothing or owning a sewing machine and putting it to nonessential use--with an earlier mode of housewifely frugality, making over broken furniture with care and imagination so that it "speak[s] all over of home and loving" (44). While fabric, paint, wallpaper, and paste don't sound expensive, we are shown that they come at a cost: savings must be repurposed, the son loses schooling, and Mary battles her husband to defend the new order. The emotional focus in the story is on discontent with the aesthetically unappealing and unleisured past rather than the pleasures of shopping, which are passed over. Jule, Mandy, and Mary's cooperative work on home decorating both offers readily pleasure and embodies social approval for the changes. The story and the magazine as a whole sidestep the problem of rural isolation pervasive in accounts of the period and lamented by farm women in the 1913 Department of Agriculture survey--loneliness that would cause a mother to want to keep her daughter close to her. Purdy's farm women flit in and out of one another's houses like characters in a sitcom, fusing redecorating with sociability.

After the redecorating, Mary learns that Ellen has received an art scholarship in the city through her friend's sympathetic mother and will leave soon after returning. She is crushed. But the transformation has had the desired effect on her daughter. Stunned by the house, Ellen sobs that she doesn't want to leave it. Smitten with the new Mary, "Every now and then Ellen would break out: 'Isn't mother pretty ... Father, isn't she?'" Ellen heads for the train station long enough for Mary and her husband to fight. Her husband accuses her of stealing the son's summer school money "so [she] could play lady." But Mary, by this time a thorough convert to Mandy's new vision of women's work in the home, replies,

  "No, I took it so that I would have more to give. We were going to
  send Ben to an agricultural summer school so he would be more help to
  us on the farm. But what Ben needs is a real home and mother. ...

  "Yes, I stole, I have stolen all my life ever since I have given my
  children a drudge instead of a mother. ... Why, all these years I
  haven't known my children. I haven't given them myself. I didn't have
  any self to give them.

  "But now I'm going to get a self. I'm going to take time to live. I'm
  going to think and grow with my children, and I'm going to have
  beauty around to help me."

As Jim renews his objections, Ellen reappears and utters the last word. She has decided to stay home, exclaiming, "Why! I've just found my little mother, and I need you more than Art--or anything. I won't leave you. I won't!' Mary's new way of life, then, with its redecorated house and "beauty around to help" (44), is not an end in itself. It ensures that the children will remain close to home and reward their mother with their love and loyalty, making farm life more attractive to both mother and children. Art in the home replaces longings for a larger world.

Why did "Revolt" undergo such a makeover and for whose eyes? Purdy's story removes the central element of defiance, and what Paul Lauter has called "achiev[ing] a modicum of power through (civil) disobedience" (58), which made the story so appealing to feminists when "Revolt" was reprinted in 1974 by the Feminist Press in its edition of "The Revolt of 'Mother'" and Other Stories. Sarah Penn took over what had been mens space for new uses. (9) Mary Dingman takes over no buildings and does not even force her husband to experience her hardships, as Mrs. Agnew does in Frankenberger's "Managing Daddy." But how central was this element to the farm women who read the story at the turn of the century?

At least some women read the story as part of a different conversation, a discourse of improving the home to keep the family happy and together. The 1890s rural reader who clipped "The Revolt of 'Mother'" from a farm paper for her scrapbook grouped it with other clipped stories in which improving or providing an attractive home stabilizes the family and bolsters moral character, such as "Miss Deborah's Investment: A Thanksgiving Story," by Annie Hannah, which makes it clear that a proper home can prevent young men from going out drinking (Baxter scrapbook). In an 1899 speech, Theodore Roosevelt zeroed in on an understanding of Freeman's story that foregrounds the mother's "power of doing good" by providing a good home:
  The mother, to be a true mother, must ... have an interest in outside
  things to keep her own self-respect, and when she loses that self
  respect she loses the respect of her children. We know of a mother,
  good and kind, sacrificing herself to her children, who through that
  sacrifice, has sacrificed her power of doing good. I wonder how many
  of you have read Mary E. Wilkins' 'Revolt of Mother'? You should read
  it, for it contains profound moral lessons. ("Roosevelt for Equal

By the 1910s, readers were familiar with the conceptual shifts between micro-and macroeconomics that underlay popular tropes like municipal housekeeping (civic reform as housekeeping writ large) or the assertion that the right kind of home was the bedrock of a sound community and nation. (10) Freeman's "Revolt of 'Mother'" might have been of less use to a magazine like Woman's World had it not also been possible to read it as a story about a mother making a better home for her family.

Why did Purdy bother with the references to Freeman's story? Because Purdy's story was published specifically for an audience of farm women, readers are hailed as keepers of the new community mores that are visible throughout the magazine in advice on economical redecorating. The story engages the reader in a densely layered awareness of being judged: As the neighbors' observant eyes show Mary how she is seen by others, the neighbors in effect diagnose and lecture the reader, as well. The story recreates in narrative form the dynamic of ads of the period--and in Woman's World--which cultivated readers' fears about how they were seen by others. Although the solution of buying goods and redecorating entails dipping into Mary's son's education fund and taking time and energy from farm work to devote to domestic comfort, Purdy's allusions to the familiar Freeman story, with its resonance both of the worm's well-justified turning and of the primacy of domesticity, make it more acceptable.

Purdy's references to "The Revolt of 'Mother'" also position her story in relationship to a tradition. "Mothering: The Story of a Revolt" and the other Mandy stories present Mandy's suggestions as daringly modern and up to date: "Somehow when you looked at Mandy Higgins you saw with her into the things just beyond today, into the things of tomorrow that were going to be, and somehow you knew that she was helping them to be" (11). Purdy borrows the weight of tradition for her story's message. Mary's neighbors are simply urging her to make the home an attractive center for her family, enhancing her mothering. Purdy's added element of two neighbors who persuade the mother to overhaul her house confirms that Mary's actions are in keeping with community mores and are not as transgressive as Sarah Penn's--or perhaps that, for up-to-date farm women, time has caught up with Sarah Penn.

Mary Dingman and her neighbors take over Sarah's barn in a way Freeman was not likely to have approved. In her other stories, Freeman treated shopping and the desire for goods as a senseless displacement of creative and sexual desires, as Monica Elbert has demonstrated. Moreover, in 1917, Freeman wrote a "retraction" of her story, asserting that it was "false," since a New England woman like Sarah Penn would either have agreed with her husband that cows should be better housed than people or would have gotten what she wanted long before ("Who's Who" 25, 75). But the interpretation that understood Sarah Penn as improving the home to keep her children happy in it stretched to accommodate a new vision of mothering. In the logic of the before-and-after narrative, Purdy's story itself is a layered story, in which the "before" includes not only Mary's lined face and dingy kitchen, but an earlier story that was taken shopping and spruced up for a new way of life in a different magazine.


Thanks to Nomi Sofer, Kathy Jones, and the anonymous reviewers at Legacy for their helpful comments and suggestions, and to Karen Carroll for copyediting help. My American Literature survey students contributed to my thinking on Purdy's and Freeman's stories. I am particularly grateful to Charlene Otero for transcribing the story. After marinating for years, this article was completed with the help of the Research Triangle Foundation's Josephus Daniels Fellowship at the National Humanities Center.

(1.) "The Revolt of 'Mother'" appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine 81 (Sept. 1890): 553-61. It was published under the name Mary E. Wilkins. For simplicity, I refer to the author by her married name, Freeman, throughout this essay.

(2.) The series stopped running after a new editor took over; two other stories set in Benson Hollow appeared later in magazines with higher literary ambitions than Woman's World. In "The Road," printed in Iowa's journal Midland, a Benson Hollow family celebrates the use of a car to partake of commercial amusements such as movies. In this more literary journal, Benson Hollow's location is specified as New York state. Without Mandy and her Pollyannaish views, the story's tone is somewhat darker. The high point of Purdy's career came with H. L. Mencken's publication of her story "Mandrake" in the American Mercury. Mencken reportedly called it the best story he had ever read, and Franklin D. Roosevelt praised it, as well ("Miss Purdy Dies at Margaretville"). Though the story is set in the same town that Mandy tried to stir up, it presents a grimmer world of long-festering emotional wounds and joins a literary movement that shows rural and small-town people trapped by traditions and their own temperaments in lifelong restrictions and resentments, not to be ameliorated by redecoration and spending sprees.

(3.) For more on rural shoppers, see Barron 155-241.

(4.) Articles in farm papers noted the problems caused by men's control of the household's spending. "Complaints about men's exclusive control of money were particularly common," notes one historian regarding the farmers' organization, the Grange. "It contributed to drudgery by making expenditures for household conveniences less likely than purchases of farm implements. ... [T]oo many men behaved as if they alone were responsible for their farms' earnings" (Marti 77).

(5.) For more on farm women's lives, see Neth and Holt.

(6.) For an account of such recirculation, see the diary of Gotham Bradbury, a farmer of Farmington, Maine. His 10 April 1882 entry notes,
  We take the New York Tribune, Golden Rule and Farmington Chronicle. I
  send the Farmington Chronicle to my son Gotham at Quincy, Ill. and he
  sends us the Quincy Whig. We also have the reading of the Lewiston
  Journal by way of exchanging with Mr. Prescott. We also have the use
  of Harper's Monthly Magazine and the Atlantic monthly and Scribner's

(7.) Thanks to Dorothy Johnson and Doris Abramson of the Common Reader bookshop in New Salem, MA, for the gift of this scrapbook.

(8.) "The Revolt of 'Mother" was immediately reprinted in the Argus and Patriot, Montpellier, VT, on 17 September 1890 and in at least one farm paper. Performances and recitations of the story are documented in Philadelphia, PA; Aberdeen, SD; Baltimore, MD; Macon, GA; Pawtucket, RI; Lexington, KY; and Stanford, KY. See "Gossip of the Clubs," "A Pleasant Social," "Miss Gilbert's Recital," "High School Program for the Commencement Beginning Wednesday Night," "In Old New England," "In Society," and "At Walton's Opera House." Performances continued into the 1940s, in towns like Anaconda, MT; Anniston, AL; Bismarck, ND; and Canandaigua, NY.

(9.) Sarah Penn's act had particular resonance in the early 1970s, when feminist groups had on at least two occasions seized institutional buildings to use as women's centers, or to barter for other buildings for that use. Unlike earlier university protesters who seized buildings for publicity, they sought not only column inches but, like Sarah Penn, three-dimensional space. For example, on New Year's Eve in 1971, New York feminists seized a former Welfare Department women's shelter that had been vacant for four years. A hundred women cleaned and repaired it and set up a child care center, food co-op and clothing exchange, a healthcare and education space, and a lesbian rights center. They were negotiating with the city for its use before they were driven out by the Tactical Police Force twelve days after the takeover. In Cambridge, on 6 March 1971, women occupied a Harvard-owned building for ten days, fueling fundraising to buy a Cambridge house for a women's center, still in operation over thirty-five years later. See Liberation News Service 17; see also Rat. Information on the Cambridge building came from an interview with Libby Bouvier, coordinator of the Cambridge Women's Center in the 1970s.

(10.) See, for example, Baker 150-51. Historians such as Eileen Boris have discussed the late-nineteenth-century interest in the moral significance of architecture and decoration.


"At Walton's Opera House." Interior Journal [Stanford, KY] 15 Jan. 1907: n. pag.

Baker, Paula. The Moral Frameworks of Public Life: Gender, Politics, and the State in Rural New York, 1870-1930. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.

Barron, Hal S. Mixed Harvest: The Second Great Transformation in the Rural North, 1870-1930. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1997.

Baxter scrapbook. Collection of the author.

Boris, Eileen. Art and Labor: Ruskin, Morris, and the Craftsman Ideal in America. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1986.

Bouvier, Libby. Telephone interview. 9 May 1998.

Bradbury, Gotham. Diary. Document 481. Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera. Courtesy of the Winterthur Museum and Library, Winterthur, DE.

Brodhead, Richard H. Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993.

Casey, Janet Galligani. "This is YOUR Magazine": Domesticity, Agrarianism, and The Farmer's Wife? American Periodicals 14 (2004): 179-211.

Editorial. Woman's World Aug. 1916: n. pag.

Elbert, Monika M. "The Displacement of Desire: Consumerism and Fetishism in Mary Wilkins Freeman's Fiction." Legacy 19 (2002): 192-215.

Ellefson, Leilia M. "The Bell Strike." Successful Farming Aug. 1912: n. pag. Rpt. in Hays, Early Stories 49-57.

Fales, Winifred. "How the Graham House Was Made Over: No. 1--The Lower Floor." Woman's World Mar. 1915: 24-25.

--. "Making Over the Graham House: No. 2--The Upstairs Rooms." Woman's World Apr. 1915: 20-21.

Frankenberger, Addie. "Managing Daddy: Determination and Courage Bring Cherished Results." Farmer's Wife Oct. 1913:144.

Freeman, Mary E. Wilkins. "Who's Who--and Why: Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, an Autobiography." Saturday Evening Post 8 Dec. 1917: 25, 75.

--."The Revolt of Mother.'" 1890. A New England Nun and Other Stories. Ed. Sandra A. Zagarell. New York: Penguin, 2000. 64-78.

Glazener, Nancy. Reading for Realism: The History of a U. S. Literary Institution, 1850-1910. Durham: Duke UP, 1997.

"Gossip of the Clubs." Philadelphia Inquirer 5 Dec. 1897:18.

Hays, Robert G. "Introduction: Rural America and Its Magazines, 1900-1925." Hays, Early Stories xi-xxii.

--, ed. Early Stories from the Land: Short-Story Fiction from American Rural Magazines, 1900-1925. Ames: Iowa State UP, 1995.

"High School Program for the Commencement Beginning Wednesday Night." Macon Weekly Telegraph 28 May 1899:14.

Holt, Marilyn Irvin. Linoleum, Better Babies, and the Modern Farm Woman, 1890-1930. Albquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1995.

"In Old New England." Pawtucket Evening Times 12 Dec. 1899: 9.

"In Society." Lexington Morning Herald 7 June 1900: 6.

Johanningsmeier, Charles. "Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary E. Wilkins (Freeman): Two Shrewd Businesswomen in Search of New Markets." New England Quarterly 70 (1997): 57-82.

Jolly, Nellie E "Millie Waters' Declaration of Independence: Self Respect Creates Respect from Others." Farmer's Wife July 1913: 56.

Lauter, Paul. Canons and Contexts. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.

Lewis, Sinclair. Main Street. 1920. Main Street and Babbit. New York: Library of America, 1992. 1-486.

Liberation News Service. "Fifth Street Women's Building." Off Our Backs 12 Feb. 1971:17.

Marti, Donald B. Women of the Grange: Mutuality and Sisterhood in Rural America, 1866-1920. New York: Greenwood, 1991.

Millard, Bailey. "The Isolated Woman and What Is Being Done to Improve Her Condition." Woman's World Jan. 1915: 3-4, 30.

"Miss Gilbert's Recital." Baltimore Sun 25 Mar. 1899: 7.

"Miss Purdy Dies at Margaretville." Delaware Republican Express [Delhi] 26 June 1952: 3.

"Mother is Coming into Her Own. National Congress of Mothers Will Meet in Denver." Charlotte Daily Observer 29 May 1910: 10.

Neth, Mary. Preserving the Family Farm: Women, Community, and the Foundations of Agribusiness in the Midwest, 1900-1940. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995.

"A Pleasant Social. A Large Crowd Attended the One at Mrs. Kyle's Last Evening." Aberdeen Daily News 12 Aug. 1898: 3.

Purdy, Nina Sutherland. "Benson Hollow's Day: One of the Best Mandy Stories." Woman's World Dec. 1915: 9-11.

--. "Honeymoon Overdue." American Magazine Nov. 1944: 42-44.

--. "Mandrake." American Mercury May 1929:104-13.

--. "Mothering: The Story of a Revolt." Woman's World Feb. 1916:11-13, 44.

--. "Opening Jean's Eyes: A Story Introducing Mandy Higgins, of Whom You Will Hear More." Woman's World Feb. 1915:11-12, 36.

--. "The Road." Midland: A Magazine of the Midwest (Sept./Oct. 1929): 261-72.

--. "The Safety-Pin." Bellman 7 Oct 1916: 484-86.

Rat 18 (12-29 Jan. 1971).

"Roosevelt for Equal Rights." Votes for Women: Selections from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection, 1848-1921. Library of Congress. American Memory, <>.

United States. Dept. of Agriculture. Social and Labor Needs of Farm Women. Report #103. Washington: GPO, 1915. Cited in Carl N. Degler, At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present. New York: Oxford UP, 1980. 406-07.

"Why Not Give Mother a Rest? She Deserves Her Vacation as Much as Does Any." Daily Herald [Biloxi] 14 Mar. 1911: 7.

Woman's World Hand Book on National Distribution. Chicago: Woman's World Magazine, 1915.


New Jersey City University
COPYRIGHT 2009 University of Nebraska Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:LEGACY REPRINT
Author:Garvey, Ellen Gruber
Publication:Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2009
Previous Article:Framing the body: imperialism and visual discourse in Maria Cristina Mena's short fiction.
Next Article:Mothering: The Story of a Revolt.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters