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Lauren F. Winner


An Outpost of God's Kingdom

Making a Christian home.

In the 1830s, American readers began to gobble up domestic advice manuals. Lydia Maria Child, Sarah Josepha Hale, and their sisters navigated the new consumer economy and provided the burgeoning middle-class guidance for managing their homes, telling women which curtains, curios, and cutlery to buy and how to care for them. Child and others articulated a close connection between housekeeping, norms of gender and economy, and Christian religious teaching. In The American Woman's Home, for example, Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe explained how to make candles and do the over-stitch, when to go shopping for household necessaries, and how often to sweep the parlor. The Beecher sisters also told readers that their Christian faith should shape their housekeeping. The Christian household manager would show hospitality to the poor; she would emulate Jesus, who "spent more time and labor in the cure of men's bodies than in preaching," by caring for the sick in her household; and she would not squander "the bounties of Providence" by serving gastronomic "monstrosities" such as "Green biscuits with acrid spots of alkali; sour yeast-bread; meat slowly simmered in fat till it seemed like grease itself … and above all, that unpardonable enormity, strong butter!" She would, in short, understand that her household labors were also Kingdom labors, intimately connected to her own faithful discipleship as a Christian woman, and to the Christian formation of her family.

More recent domestic advisors have at least implicitly recognized that housework can be connected to spiritual and religious pursuits, as evidenced by the seemingly endless feng shui craze, with its promises that the correct arrangement of furniture will produce inner peace. Desperate housewives are encouraged, in the words of a contributor to mothering.com, to focus on the "Zen, meditative aspect of housecleaning by trying to slow down and be aware … . [This] makes doing the dishes and folding ...

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