Melanie is available to speak to your reading group virtually or, if mutually convenient, in person. Please contact her directly at MKirkpatrick@Hudson.org. Write “Reading Group” in the subject line.
Suggested discussion questions for Lady Editor:
- Hale believed in the dignity of women’s work in the home and worked to elevate the status of what she termed “domestic science.” Every wife, she wrote, had to be prepared to perform the duties of five professions: housekeeper, teacher, dressmaker, physician, and accountant. Has respect for homemakers increased since she wrote about it? Do full-time homemakers today have the status they deserve?
- Hale abhorred slavery, but she wasn’t an abolitionist. She saw the preservation of the union as the highest national priority. Plus she believed that emancipated slaves would struggle in a society where many white Americans would be prejudiced against free African-Americans. Given the context of her day, was this position moral?
- In Hale’s view, women were better suited than men to be teachers. She also wanted women to be physicians for women and children—to the exclusion of male physicians. Is there anything to that view? Do women make better doctors for women and children?
- As civil war loomed, Hale promoted a national Thanksgiving – that is, a holiday that was proclaimed by the President and that all Americans celebrated on the same day. She hoped it would draw Americans together and prevent war. Could our modern-day Thanksgiving holiday help bridge the cultural and political divides among Americans?
- Hale believed that raising children to be good citizens was a woman’s paramount responsibility. Do parents today have such a responsibility? What is the definition of a “good citizen?”
- After Hale’s husband, David, died in 1822, she dressed in mourning for the rest of her life, fifty-seven years. Men in mourning used to wear black armbands. Households would put black wreaths on their front doors. Such outward signs that someone has suffered the loss of a dear one have disappeared from contemporary American culture. Death and mourning often are taboo subjects in our society. Would there be a value in bringing back such outward signs of mourning?
- Hale thought politics was a dirty business and that women should rise above it. Discuss her objection to women voting and their participation in politics. If she had died before the suffrage movement took off after the Civil War, would she be better remembered today for her foundational role in changing Americans’ attitudes about educating women? Was her reputation “tainted” by her objection to female suffrage?
- Hale wrote that professional ambition was abhorrent in women, yet she didn’t stop working until she was nearly ninety years old. Is there a disconnect there?
- Hale abhorred coverture, the common-law doctrine under which a married woman’s legal rights were subsumed by her husband on their wedding day. How would your life be different if a male guardian – a husband, father, brother – had control over your financial affairs?
- Hale created the organizational template that women’s magazines still employ. Yet she loathed fashion, which, in her view, encouraged vanity and wasteful spending. She wanted American women to develop their own style of dress that would be plain, simple, tidy, and distinct from French and English styles. Did she go overboard in her dislike of fashion?
- Hale encouraged women to take on leadership roles in philanthropies. She also encouraged women to donate to philanthropies that supported women such as education. It’s sometimes said today that women have a different approach to philanthropy than men. Is that so?