Anglo-Americans wrestled with some profound cultural contradictions as they shifted from the hierarchical and patriarchal society of the seventeenth-century frontier to the modern and fluid class democracy of the mid-nineteenth century. How could traditional inequality be maintained in the socially leveling environment of the early colonial wilderness? And how could nineteenth-century Americans pretend to be equal in an increasingly unequal society?
Bowing to Necessities argues that manners provided ritual solutions to these central cultural problems by allowing Americans to act out--and thus reinforce--power relations just as these relations underwent challenges. Analyzing the many sermons, child-rearing guides, advice books, and etiquette manuals that taught Americans how to behave, this book connects these instructions to individual practices and personal concerns found in contemporary diaries and letters. It also illuminates crucial connections between evolving class, age, and gender relations. A social and cultural history with a unique and fascinating perspective, Hemphill's wide-ranging study offers readers a panorama of America's social customs from colonial times to the Civil War.
"Hemphill's approach to [her] subject is refreshing. She brings serious understanding and a subtlety of mind to a body of knowledge that initially appears infinitely exhausting....Manners, as we commonly know, manage conflicts, contradictions, and hostility between people in the vagaries of everyday life. In the larger patterns of historical time, Hemphill argues that conduct books served to reflect relationships of power, class, gender, and age by means of
which cultures performed serious work. Before 1740, manners reinforced inequality in a deferential, hierarchic structure. After, until the middle of the nineteenth century, they served as form and
function for a 'rising' middle class that was realizing the possibilities of revolution through claims to republican and democratic values, albeit controversial. Hemphill succeeds in developing a one-dimensional source into a complex, shrewd story."--Burton J. Bledstein, University of Illinois at Chicago
"Manners have been receiving growing scholarly attention of late, in part perhaps because of the uncertainties about contemporary civilities. In this striking new contribution, C. Dallett Hemphill provides important new insights about the origins of American manners and about the role of changing etiquette standards in forming social class and gender definitions. There are provocative implications in this careful yet imaginative inquiry for topics as
wide-ranging as childhood and humor."--Peter Stearns, Carnegie Mellon University
"Make no mistake: this marvelous book is much more than a narrow history of manners in early America. It is an expansive and brilliant history of early America in manners. C. Dallett Hemphill has read more etiquette manuals and conduct books than anyone else ever has, and she has read them more vivifyingly besides. She has tantalizing and transformative things to say about patriarchy and privacy, about body-control and the emergence of the middle class, about
mastery and self-mastery, and, above all, about the changing muddles we have made of equality and inequality in the tangled relations of men and women and of the rich and the poor. She says these things
with an authority and an easy grace that announce the appearance of a new star in the American historical firmament."--Michael Zuckerman, University of Pennsylvania
"An impressive social history...Hemphill makes a convincing argument that manners...can tell a weighty historical story...Hemphill's account rightly addresses gender hierarchies, but it also pays close and comparative attention to those of rank and age, to produce a highly systematic and nuanced account of American social relations before the war."--Shorter Notices
"[Hemphill] has written a beautifully lucid, engaging, and thorough study that will be valuable to all social and cultural historians of the first long "half" of American history and to our students."--William and Mary Quarterly
"Hemphill's keen sensitivity to the ways in which the code of manners changed over time and varied with class, age, and gender enables her to detect innovations--that signal real social and cultural shifts. Her findings shed considerable light on current debates among historians...Hemphill makes important and original contributions to debates on our understanding of the workings of class and gender in America."--American Historical Review