Archival Research Project: Section 301 – Group 1

Kate England, Vinnie Airoldi, Elena Miller, Lydia Filippelli, and Maddie Block

The Young Lady

This book is called both The Young Lady or the Guide to Knowledge, Virtue, and Happiness, and is written by Anna Fergurson. We have chosen one specific chapter from this book to focus on, which is “Politeness in Conversation.” This portion of the book gives specific advice directed at young girls about how they should act in social situations. For example,  the author writes that she should never show anger, never talk too much, not talk about things that excite her (because her voice gets higher which is annoying to men), and much more. This book has a very targeted audience and very clearly scripts the intended actions of the readers. This book has a style very similar to Little Women and also parallels with one of the major premises in the book. One main idea that is important for understanding this novel is “girlhood”. One aspect of girlhood that we have discussed in class in the traditional ideals of femininity and domesticity.  I think the most connections can be made with “Little Women” because these young girls are also trying to learn how to act (like Meg and Amy) while Jo is struggling to follow these certain “guidelines” of femininity. 

The author of this piece is Anna Fergurson, and this is her only book known to date. It was found in the Cairns Collection of the Memorial Library Archives, which is a collection of women writers. It was published in 1852; this was pre- Civil War when women were hardly educated. Young girls in their 20s usually married a man about 5 years older than them. Many women were not even allowed to talk to men unless an older, married woman accompanied them. 

This is significant for the study of American Girlhood today because the views and behaviors of girls back then are far more conservative than they are now. The first sentence tells the girls to not talk too much in conversation. When young girls talk about something that they are excited about, their tone gets higher and they “talk too much excluding all other conversation”. This is interesting because it not only tells them that talking is not good, it suppresses their interests and identity for the approval of elders and males. Another interesting piece of advice was, “loud laughter is also impolite. “ This also goes against many things that are important in youth culture today. There are even quotes today saying “laughter is the best medicine” but these girls are taught to tame themselves and hold in the emotion. Finally, Furgurson writes, “avoid the exhibitions of anger and petulance. They are impolite and immodest, especially so in females.” This blatantly shows that societal standards are different based on gender

Easy-Bake Oven

The Easy-Bake oven comes with mixes for cakes, cookies, and other sweets, along with the rod that pushes the cakes through as shown in the picture. In order to “bake” your cake, you prepare the mix, put it into a small tin, and insert it into one side of the oven. The oven has a lightbulb underneath that “cooks” the item. Once it is cooked, you use the pink rod to push it back out the other side. The first Easy-Bake oven was released in 1963 by Kenner Products, a toy company located in Ohio. The original oven was designed to resemble an actual oven that could be found in kitchens in the 60s, but the models still being released no longer look like actual ovens. 

There is nothing that is really necessary to understand this object if you are seeing it for the first time, as it is mostly self-explanatory. However, because of its popularity, most people would recognize it, not just girls. The only previous knowledge needed to understand the scripting of this item is the notion that girls are meant to learn how to cook and bake, which is societally-ingrained in most whether they believe it or not. 

We chose this item because it was very popular in the time that we were growing up, and also through research, I found that it has been a popular toy for girls from the 60s all the way to today. When the Easy-Bake oven first came out, it was heavily marketed towards girls. In the 60s, it was still a widely-held opinion that a woman belongs in the kitchen to serve her husband and family, and the Easy-Bake Oven taught young girls these lessons in a “fun” way. Even though society has come a long way in terms of women in the workforce, if you look at the picture of the most recent Easy-Bake Oven, it is still clearly marketed toward girls– it is pink and white, and it is covered with glitter and stars which are still most closely related with girlhood. The scripting of the original Easy-Bake Oven was obvious: girls are expected to learn how to cook and bake because that is their place. However, it is disheartening to see that it is still marketed and scripted this way in 2020.  

Tea Set

This item is a  plastic tea set complete with four spoons, teacups, plates, and a sugar pot, cream cup, and teapot. It is modeled after the original porcelain Royal Albert set. It was meant to entertain young girls while educating them in the art of acting like a lady. While it is unclear when this exact tea set was created, as a whole, tea sets began becoming a popular toy for girls when porcelain became a more widespread material in the nineteenth century due to advances in science and technology. In the 1940s plastic replaced the fine porcelain of these children’s toys. While some current toy tea sets are still made in ceramic, the quality is not what it once was. Because of this, many toy manufacturers have reproduced famous toy tea sets to suit modern taste which can be seen in this particular Royal Albert replication. 

While the item itself is fairly self-explanatory, it is interesting to consider the idea of tea time in a traditional sense and the role women had in conducting it. Often a woman’s ability to facilitate an enjoyable tea party was a sign of class and prestige. It was expected that every accomplished woman should be trained in the art of teatime as it incorporated skills valued at that time such as how to be a good hostess and running a household smoothly. Women who could not do this were often viewed as unsuitable for a wife. It was assumed that if she did not know how to pour tea correctly she would be unable to perform her wifely duties in the sense of entertaining guests and running a household. An example of this can be seen in Mulan when she visits the matchmaker and tea time goes horribly wrong. In the end she is declared “hopeless.” Not only is this item a toy, but it is also a piece of history that represents the expectations that have been placed over women for centuries. 

This item was chosen because of the role it has played in girls’ lives for hundreds of years. It is also a prime example of the idea of scripting. This item strongly suggests how a child should play with it. It was stated in lecture that agency and intention emerge through everyday engagement with the things in our lives. The idea of eating food and drinking out of cups is a concept familiar to most children plainly scripting the type of activity expected to be associated with the tea set. It is also interesting to note how highly gendered this item is. Women are strongly associated with the thought of a tea party. When playing with the set girls will often dress up and pretend to be “sophisticated ladies” as they serve their dolls or friends. It has long been considered a prime example of the perceived idea of girlhood. For these reasons, I have chosen this to present to my classmates because of its influential role in girls’ lives for years as well as the strong connection to multiple concepts of “girlhood” that we have looked at in this course. 

Reflective Essay

We chose three items to base our project on.  All of them can be used to exemplify how scripted play can affect young girls (as they are clearly all marketed toward girls).  They all suggested how a lady or girl should act.  In the special collection archive book, the author is providing a guideline for how girls should act.  This book helps to show how young girls were viewed as inferior in this time period.  With the Easy-Bake-Oven, it is implying that girls must learn how to bake and cook because it is their job and responsibility.  In the tea set, the scripted play is for young girls to practice being proper and, for a lack of better terms, “ladylike”.  All of the items we have chosen are centered around the idea that women and girls have a role they must fill in society.

Between the three items that we have chosen, there were many connections between each other and to many of the themes and keywords we have been discussing in class. The Easy-Bake oven, tea set, and The Young Lady are all different artifacts that display common themes of how people portray girlhood. Keywords that we feel best to connect these three artifacts are girlhood, education, childhood, and innocence. Little Women and American Indian Stories are both books that we have read and discussed that also display a connection between the three artifacts.

The keywords “girlhood”, and “education” relate to our artifacts by the gender roles and stereotypes of being a girl. Many people throughout history viewed girlhood as a time to begin learning how to be a good woman and wife, and these artifacts are made to show girls how to do so. This blends with the keyword education because of the teaching aspect these artifacts provide to girls. The chapter of The Young Lady teaches girls how to be polite in conversation, the Easy-Bake oven teaches girls to cook, and the tea set shows girls how to set a table for people implying they will have to do so in the future. These three items can teach girls many important things, but they fall accustomed to teaching many stereotypes such as being a housewife. Our artifacts and many more teach girls growing up stereotyped gender roles throughout their childhood.

Little Women and American Indian Stories are two books that demonstrate gender roles similar to our artifacts. In Little Women, the girls grow up being told they have to be good wives someday. In order to be a good wife, they have to set tables and cook similar to what an Easy-Bake oven or the tea set would teach girls. The girls from Little Women also have to communicate extremely politely to adults and potential husbands which is similar to what The Young Lady Teaches. In American Indian Stories the young girl attempts to make coffee because she’s seen her mother do it for guests many times. This is a gender role that is demonstrated by the Easy-Bake Oven, which teaches girls the stereotypical gender role that they have to cook. These stories are good examples of gender role comparisons between them and our artifacts

Our project focuses on three items.  With the items we have chosen, we draw attention to the idea of scripted play for young girls.  All of these items addressed a suggested idea of how a lady or girl should act, as they are clearly marketed toward this gender.  In the special collection archive book, the author is trying to provide a guideline for how girls should act.  This book helps to show how young girls were viewed as inferior in this time period.  With the Easy-Bake-Oven, it is implying that girls must learn how to bake and cook because it is their job and responsibility.  In the tea set, the scripted play is for young girls to practice being proper and, for a lack of better terms, “ladylike”.  All of the items we have chosen are centered around the idea that women and girls have a role they must fill in society.  

Even today, toys are separated by gender.  However, many times, these gender-based products are not physically stating which gender it is for.  Instead, they do this through marketing tactics.  On a box, you will see colors that are stereotypically associated with females, you will see girls on the cover, and the isles separated between dolls and cars.  Now, with successful marketing, young girls buy dolls and young boys buy cars.  The girls are then learning that it is their job to take care of babies, while boys learn that “only girls play with dolls”.

Our project brought this into focus.  We chose modern toys that are clearly marketed toward girls.  Within these items, they implicitly, through scripted play, teach these girls that they have responsibilities that are different from boys.  In today’s society, with feminism movements rising, the need for gender equality is higher than ever.  We wanted to show how even in the simplest ways, that may go over consumers’ heads, products are still being gender-specific and the scripted play of products suggests bigger gendered responsibilities through the play.  With our project in mind, we wanted to share with consumers how the toy industry is instilling gender inequality into the minds of young children every day.


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