Isabella Beeton ~ The Martha Stewart of Edwardian England

by | Jul 14, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management“As with the commander of an army, or the leader of any enterprise, so it is with the mistress of a house.”

With those words Isabella Beeton opens the first chapter of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which offered authoritative advice to Victorian and Edwardian Women on a wide range of subjects including childcare, fashion, animal husbandry, medicines, cleanliness, frugality, economy, and the management of servants as well as a great number of recipes.

When I began researching my Edwardian Brides Series I wanted to learn more about the roles of women and how they managed their homes . . . so I consulted Mrs. Beeton.

I thought you might enjoy learning a little about this amazing woman. Isabella Mayson was born in London in 1836, the oldest of four children. Her father, Benjamin Mayson, died when she was young, and her mother remarried a widower with four children of his own. The blended family lived in Epsom, Surrey. With her four half-sisters, she had 21 siblings, a huge family even for the Victorian times. Being the oldest, Isabella honed her abilities in babysitting and general household management, which gave her the experience and confidence to write her famous book when she was in her early twenties.

Isabella BeetonWhen she was nineteen she met Samuel Beeton, a rich and handsome young book and magazine publisher. Samuel and Isabella were married in 1856. Nine months later Isabella gave birth to a baby boy, but he only lived three months. A second son also died when he was young. She later had two more sons.

But during their marriage, Isabella and Sam were a successful and prolific team. Between 1859 and 1861, Isabella wrote articles about cooking and household management for Samuel’s publications, including a monthly column for The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine.

In October of 1861, the supplements were collected and published as a single volume. The book’s official and complete title was: The Book of Household Management Comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: With a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort, edited by Mrs. Isabella Beeton. Now that’s quite a title!

It became the most famous English domestic manual ever published, selling more than 60,000 copies in its first year of publication, and almost two million by 1868.

In the preface, Isabella explained why she wrote the book:

“What moved me, in the first instance, to attempt a work like this, was the discomfort and suffering which I had seen brought upon men and women by household mismanagement. I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly cooked dinners and untidy ways. Men are now so well served out of doors — at their clubs, well-ordered taverns, and dining-houses — that, in order to compete with the attraction of these places, a mistress must be thoroughly acquainted with the theory and practice of cookery, as well as be perfectly conversant with all the other arts of making and keeping a comfortable home.”

Isabella embraced the traditional roles of wife and mother and saw women as queens of the domestic sphere. She believed men were kings of the public sphere.

Although the book contained hundreds of recipes, most of the recipes were not Isabella’s originals. It was meant to be a collection of useful recipes and information. Mrs. Beeton’s was the first book to list ingredients at the start of the recipe, and to recommend cooking times.

Isabella died at the age of 28 after giving birth to her fourth child in January of 1865. Her husband and subsequent publishers kept the news of Isabella’s death quiet, and continued to publish updates to Household Management, as well as completely new books, under her name.

Would you like to see more interesting photos from life in England in the early 1900’s? I have several Pinterest boards on those topics. I hope you stop by and take a look.

Have you ever heard of Isabelle Beeton before? Or her book?


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