According to the popularly understood definitions of True Womanhood, a True Woman was a pious Christian who took seriously her responsibility to teach religious piety to her children, and who helped her husband and other family and community members to likewise embrace and exemplify Christian values.

Search the Scriptures. Alden's Lith., c. 1840?

Here in this affectionate scene, we see a young woman with an older male family member. They read the Bible together, and the scene is meant to suggest ideals of family togetherness as well as the wisdom of the Bible. The scene reminds viewers of the important role of elders within the family; it is the elders' role to pass their wisdom along and to instruct the younger generations. Children were expected to be attentive to these lessons, and this was especially important for young women, who needed this wisdom in order to successfully fulfill their future roles as mothers and teachers of their children.

Detail from Search the Scriptures
c. 1840? 34 x 24 cm


Reading the Scriptures. Nathaniel Currier, c. 1838–1856.

This lithograph, probably published in the 1850s, is one of a number of similar prints produced in the decades before the Civil War. In this simple scene, a young husband reads the Bible to his wife. Although it was women's job to instruct their children in Christian values, nineteenth-century women were also expected to be obedient to their husbands' authority—a mandate that originated with the Bible. There are a number of versions of this image, rendered by a variety of artists, that feature more humble surroundings than those pictured here. The lushness of the colors in this print, the fine furnishings depicted, and the roaring fire in the fireplace all suggest the material comforts associated with middle-class prosperity in the period. This luxurious scene suggests that the material comforts of capitalism can coexist with Christian values.

Detail from Reading the Scriptures
c. 1838-1856. 36 x 23 cm


Asking a Blessing. Alexander Fraser, c. 1830–1842

This image depicts an idealized Christian family at home. Paintings and prints that showed homey, nostalgic scenes like this one (called genre scenes) were extremely popular throughout the nineteenth century. This one shows a family expressing gratitude and asking for God's blessing at their meal. There are many details here that reveal the family's elevated economic and social status. The fine silver and glassware that adorn the table, the elegant furniture, and their simple but fine and fashionable clothing all suggest the family's prosperity. The toys on the floor in the right foreground are evidence of a well-loved son and indicate the high value that Americans of this period placed on children within the family. The conventional beauty of each family member, along with the classical bust and the book that sit in the alcove behind the table, all suggest that this family is virtuous, well educated, and enlightened. That mother and son are seated close together emphasizes the importance of a woman's obligation to raise her sons to be good citizens of the United States.

Detail from Asking a Blessing
c. 1830-1842. 36 x 28 cm


La Reine des Anges. Nathaniel Currier, c. 1838-1856
This representation of the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of the Angels, a Catholic figure, is rare among nineteenth-century American prints. Protestants made up the overwhelming majority of Christians in the United States, and religious-themed prints generally reflected this. At the time this image was published, there was also a strong anti-Catholic sentiment, which would continue to grow throughout the nineteenth century. This image has captions in three languages. That the primary captions are in French and Spanish suggests that the image may have been produced especially for sale to the descendants of French and Spanish settlers who populated various regions of North America, and possibly to Spanish speakers in Central and South America as well. 

The artist has borrowed from a long history of European artistic representations of Madonna and Child, and also incorporates the same sentimental tone that was a ubiquitous feature of nineteenth-century depictions of mother-child scenes. As both virgin and mother, Mary represents the highest ideals of virtuous womanhood.

Detail from La Reine des Anges
c. 1838-1856. 42 x 33 cm


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