You know that friend who’s always trying to run your life, down to the smallest of details? In the mid 1800s, Eliza Leslie was that friend. For everybody.
Born in Philadelphia in 1787, Leslie spent six years of her childhood in London. After her family returned to the States, she attended on of the first formal cooking schools in America, run by Elizabeth Goodfellow, sometime in the mid 1820s. Leslie then began to write best-selling cookbooks and domestic how-to books, many of which remained in print well after her death in 1858.
One of Leslie’s biggest contributions was her book of translated French recipes, Domestic French Cookery, which first appeared in the early 1830s. It’s believed that Leslie learned French while living in London, and the recipes she translated opened a window into modern European life and culture for American housewives.
In 1840, Leslie published the first edition of her massive domestic guide, called Miss Leslie’s Lady’s New Receipt-Book, with more than 400 pages of tips for running a proper mid-19th century home. Though almost all the tips (“receipts”) are related to cooking, hygiene, and home organization, there’s one passage that stands out: “crossing the sea.” Leslie was five years old when her family sailed for London, and though it’s possible she was recalling her voyage back to the States as an eleven-year-old, it’s more likely that Leslie collected advice from other women while writing this section of the book. It’s detailed to the point of banal, but it’s worth a read for one significant reason: it’s clearly written with a solo female traveler in mind.
That fact struck me midway through, at the line “No dress intended to be worn on a voyage should fasten behind, as it is not always that a lady can procure the assistance of another person to do this for her.” If you read the entire passage with this perspective in mind, it’s really a remarkable piece, chock full of practical advice for alleviating seasickness, boredom, and fashion emergencies on the road. It was designed for women embarking on the Grand Tour — or for women who dreamed of embarking on the Grand Tour — but there are no suggestions about packing for one’s husband or other tips that would imply a man or a female friend would/should also be in tow.
Instead, it’s bonnet-to-bonnet advice and encouragement for other intrepid young American women. Here’s the whole thing: Read More »