A weighty, donkey-brown tome of 734 pages, bearing the title The Woman’s Book: Contains Everything a Woman Ought to Know is held in the reference section of the Matakohe Kauri Museum’s library. It is a compendium of advice and information, submitted by “expert contributors” and edited by Florence Jack and Rita Strauss.
The 1911, London and Edinburgh publication, comprises 34 chapters. The subject matter covers the usual domestic topics but also extends to such topics as civil service, philanthropy, recreation, bee-keeping, advice on sanitary regulations, infectious diseases, signing a contract, laying linoleum, women’s careers, and where to undertake Colonial Housekeeping courses for those wishing to emigrate.
I admit, I was anticipating reading lengthy lectures dictating how women should subordinate themselves to their husbands. I was disappointed. The book fails to even comment upon marital affairs or the gender power balance of spousal relationships. It is, in fact, a practical, comprehensive collection of information aimed at encouraging and assisting women to perform a wide range of tasks diligently. The editors liken the breadth of knowledge and skills required to run a household and servants, as similar to “the qualities demanded of a field-marshal”. It strongly advocates for an expansion of opportunities for women.
Certainly the book focuses a lot on domestic matters. But, in truth, this was the realm allotted to women at that time. It was only 29 years since British women were allowed to retain and manage their own property, wages, income and finances, independent of their husbands. They still did not have the right to vote and were barred from entering Parliament. While they had been able to attend Cambridge University since 1896, the university did not confer degrees on women until 1948.
Chapters on money management, banking, and ‘Women in Business’ provide solid advice on a subject women had, generally, been excluded from. But in this delightful book, they sit happily alongside suggestions on how to combat feather-eating in parrots, prepare and administer nutritional enemas, clean furs, and how long the period of mourning should last for a nephew.
On page 697, the last word is given in strong support of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. “Women, like men, have the desire to expand their realm of intelligence, to take part in the affairs of the world, which bear upon our lives, and the restraint and force of mere tradition, prejudice, or caste, have become intolerable to them. Women want freer lives because they want freer development; they want more capable minds and increased capacities for grappling with the increasing difficulties of modern civilisation.” A good read.
Members of the public are welcome to view all reference books at the Kauri Museum during opening hours. We are also looking for volunteers to help operate our library. If you are interested, please contact Marion Walsh, volunteer coordinator on 021 823 944 or email email@example.com