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Beyond Nancy Drew: A Guide to Girls' Literature

Early Literature for Girls

Jacob Abbott's Books for Girls

Jacob Abbott was an ordained minister, professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Amherst, founder of a girl's school, and author of a long list of children's books. He treated children's books as a means of educating children gently, and of raising them to hold Christian values. He authored two of the earliest girl's literature series, the Lucy Books and the Franconia series. The Lucy books are a spin-off of his first series, the Rollo books (for boys). The Franconia series deals with the lives of numerous children. Many books by Abbott can be found in Duke Library's online catalog.

In the words of one reader of Abbott's Lucy series:

"I was discovered one Sunday afternoon reading Godey's Lady's Book which, although extremely mild and harmless, was thought in those days a little grown-up for a person of four and a half. The next day I was taken into town and made the proud owner of a copy of Jacob Abbott's Lucy's Conversations, my first bound book? Was there ever a more delightful journey than that which Lucy was invited to make to the seashore ?How grand it was for the little girls to travel in a carriage, to have tea by themselves in Lady Jane's sister's library, waited on by a black serving man, and to look at drawers of curiosities, shells and minerals, and a picture in mosaic of a burning mountain, by way of entertainment!" Caroline M. Hewins, A Mid-Century Child and Her Books, Macmillan, 1926.

Little Prudy and Friends; or Books by Sophie May

Rebecca Clarke (Sophie May) was born in 1833. Her earliest literary successes came from the Little Prudy series and subsequent spin-offs (Flaxie Frizzle, Dotty Dimple, Little Prudy's Children, and Little Prudy's Flyaways). Targeted at younger readers, these series relate the adventures of several young children. Title characters are generally connected across series. Each series is limited to six volumes. Books are listed under both "Sophie May" and "Rebecca Clarke" within the Duke Libraries Online Catalog. Little Prudy, Dotty Dimple and Flaxie Frizzle series are all available, in addition to other non-series titles.

Little Rosie Stories

Much like Sophie May and Julia Mathews, Margaret Hosmer (1830-1897) wrote episodic fiction targeted at young girls. Other, non-serial titles by the same author include Under the Holly: A Book for Girls, written under the pseudonym " a pair of hands." Several Little Rosie titles are available at the Rubenstein Library, all published in Philadelphia by Porter & Coates around 1869.

The Golden Ladder Series

The Golden Ladder Series deals with the lives of impoverished girls, their family relationships, and their connections to Christianity. The Rubenstein Library currently has three of the six volumes in this series, all written by Julia A. Mathews.

Elsie and Mildred

Martha Finley penned one of the most popular 19th century girls' series, in which her young heroine Elsie Dinsmore grew up, had children, and passed on the role of protagonist to her daughter. Elsie's faith plays a large role in her life, giving the author an opportunity to express Christian values and ethics. Perkins Library has additional titles in these series.

Other Titles

Book cover: A Very Odd Girl
  • Armstrong, Annie E. A Very Odd Girl; a Story of Life at the Gabled Farm. New York: Burt, [18--]. 
    Older girls confront peer pressure and struggle to conform to the expectations of Victorian society. The relationship between female characters emphasizes the penalties faced by an "odd girl". Family life, friendship and courtship provide the social background for the story.
  • Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Boston: Roberts Bros., 1869.
    This famous and oft-dramatized novel of girlhood and womanhood focuses in on a family of four sisters, each an individual, raised outside of the constricting norms of the society. The March sisters grow up during the Civil War, experiencing love, marriage, sickness and death.
  • Sommers, Jane R. Heavenward Led: or the Two Bequests. Porter and Coates, 1870.
    Ellen Ashton is the "sweet young daughter" of Captain Richard Ashton. When her mother dies, she must take up the management of the household, keeping accounts and cheering her father. As the two come to terms with loss and their new life, they re-enter Society, and travel through Europe.
  • Marshall, Emma Martin. Primrose: or the Bells of Old Effingham. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1871.
    Narrated by a music teacher who encounters a fetching child named Primrose. This charming girl has lost her mother, but takes joy in the bells of Old Effingham Church. Their love of music forges a friendship.
  • Parr, Louise Taylor. Dorothy Fox. Philadelphia: H. B. Lippincott & Co., 1871.
    This large-print book for very young girls tells the story of Dorothy, a middle-class English girl whose father, Nathaniel, is a cloth and woolens draper.
  • Whitney, A. D. T. The Other Girls. Boston: J. R. Osgood and Co., 1873.
    Sylvie Argenter, a wealthy girl, discovers how the "other girls" live. "Sylvie sat silent? thinking 'how many girls there were in the world! All sorts-everywhere! What did they all do and find to care for?' These were not the 'other' girls of whom her mother had blandly said that she could show kindnesses by taking them to drive."
  • Howard, Blanche Willis. One Summer. Boston: James R. Osgood & Company, 1876.
    In a single summer, girlhood flourishes and ends: the joys of country life and the excitement of courtship have faded into maturity with the onset of autumn in this coming-of-age novel.
  • Meade, L. T. Dot and her Treasures. London: J. F. Shaw, 188?
    Dot is nearly 8 years old, the youngest member of an orphaned family of children. She and her siblings live in a squalid London loft. This petite ragamuffin still manages a life of play and fantasy with her tattered dolls and other treasured toys. L. T. Meade wrote several such novels, portraying the social ills of poverty and city life. Check the online catalog for other titles by this prolific author.
  • Swan, Annie S. Maitland of Laurieston. Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1891?.
    Due to unfortunate circumstances, the children of Mrs. Maitland's good friend come to visit. Young Effie is quite excited to meet poor little Agnes, one of the visiting children. As the girls become acquainted and grow up, they learn important lessons about life and morality.
  • Swan, Annie S. A Lost Ideal. Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1891?
    In the opening chapters of this book, Helen is about to be married. In her innocence, she is caught up in the romantic beauty of the situation, but soon after the wedding ceremony she discovers that marriage is more difficult than she had imagined. The narrative deals with accepting the end of childhood, and the many difficulties of a grown-up marriage.
  • Newberry, Fannie E. Bubbles: A Girl's Story. New York: A. L. Burt, 1892.
    This novel illustrates the details and difficulties of life for the newly-married woman.

    Book cover: A Little Florida Lady
  • Robbins, Sarah Stuart. Miss Ashton's New Pupil: A School Girl's Story. New York: A. L. Burt, 1892.
    Mariah, daughter of missionaries, is sent back to America to further her education. When Mrs. Ashton, head of a fine girls' school, learns of this, she is very concerned-Mariah's background and upbringing mean that she will not fit in with her classmates. Mariah overcomes class and background differences, eventually finding friends amongst both teachers and students.
  • Raymond, Evelyn Hunt. Jessica Trent: Her Life on a Ranch. New York: Street and Smith,1902.
    Description of ranch-living: typical girl-hood events, including courtship, adventure and friendship, take place in the rustic world of the American West.
  • Molesworth, Mary. Robin Redbreast: a Story for Girls. Chicago: M. A. Donohue & Co., 1903?
    There is talk of establishing a public High School for girls in the town of Thetford. Currently, the town boasts two private girls schools, headed by Misses Scarlet and Green. The girls of the town attend school, encounter a crotchety old widow, and embody hope and innocence. This fiction dramatizes the contemporary debate about female education.
  • Paine, Dorothy. A Little Florida Lady. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs and Company, 1903.
    A young girl grows up wealthy, experiencing every luxury and privilege. An illustrated tale of the "old-time" South. "Mrs. Davenport explained that cleanliness had nothing to do with the man's blackness. 'Is he black inside?' Beth questioned in great awe. 'No. All people are alike at heart. Clean thinking makes even the black man white within, dear.'"
  • Rouse, Adelaide Louise. The Deane Girls: A Home Story. New York: A. L. Burt, c. 1903.
    Eight sisters, living in poverty, struggle to support themselves, all the while dreaming of finding romance. This novel deals with family dynamics, sisterhood, economic issues and romance - both real and imagined.

A Christian Upbringing

  • Home Sunshine, or Bear and Forbear. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, [n.d].
    Mary is the eldest daughter of a widower, and has taken on the roles of housekeeper and mother. When her father remarries, she has trouble relinquishing power to her stepmother. The tensions between the two women provide a commentary on family hierarchies and the questionable merits of remarriage.
  • Stretton, Hesba. Jessica's First Prayer. New York: American Tract Society, [1867]. Jessica's First Prayer
    Jessica is a thin, hungry waif, looking into the window of a city coffeehouse. The proprietor sees her, and invites her in for food, but makes her promise not to come back for at least a week. Over time, he nourishes her and guides her towards the Christian faith.
  • de Mewlan, Élisabeth Charlotte Pauline. Cecilia and Annette, or of Indifference and Friendship; with other tales. Boston: A. Tompkins, 1851.
    Translated from the French, this early work contains four short stories. In the first of these tales, young Cecilia constantly complains about everything. On a carriage-trip, she has to rescue her mother, and in the process, learns to stop complaining.
  • Warner, Susan. The Wide, Wide World. George P. Putnam, 1851.
    This exceptional novel was first published in 1852 and is often acclaimed as America's first bestseller. Its heroine, Ellen Montgomery, is her mother's sole companion, confidante, and spiritual prodigy. Under the pretense of taking her to a climate more favorable to her health, Ellen's father takes her mother away. Her mother's last words to Ellen are "We must endure, but we must not rebel." Ellen moves to live with Mrs. Dunscombe, is forced into marriage, and finds her greatest comfort in Christianity.
  • Grahame, Nellie (Annie Ketchem Dunning). The Beginning and the End. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1864.
    Two girls, one fair and beautiful, the other dark and scarred, meet, relate, and share Christian values.
  • Ellen and her Cousins, or Piety at Home. Philadelphia Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1864. 
    Ellen cares for her sick father. Issues include family relationships and communion.
  • Grylls, Mary. Helen and Her Cousins: or Two Months at Ashfield Rectory. Boston: Roberts Brothers, Publishers, 1864.
    Originally published by the Christian Knowledge Society, this novel portrays an idealized upper-class English country vacation.
  • Lizzie's Visit to New-York. New York: Protestant Episcopal Society for the Promotion of Evangelical Knowledge, 1864.
    Lizzie comes to stay with a city cousin, hoping that the warmer air will cure her cough. This change of setting provides a framework for the introduction of Christian values, city descriptions, and chaste romance.
  • Susy's Flowers: Or Blessed are the Merciful, For They Shall Obtain Mercy. London: T. Nelson & Sons, 1871.
    Susy Grey was daughter of the local Gardener at the Hall. She has lost both mother and brother, but has Christ for companionship.
  • Carry's RoseDoudney, Sarah. Under Gray Walls. London: Sunday School Union, 1871.
  • Carry's Rose, or the Magic of Kindness. London: T. Nelson & Sons, 1872.
    The heartwarming tale of young Caroline, her little lamb, and her wealthy life.
  • Deserted Heroine; or The Wanderer Brought Home. New York: American Tract Society, c. 1875.
    Illustrated tale of love, God, horses and the power these three forces have over the life of a country girl.
  • Eliza Metcalf's Basket, or Policy not Principle. London; Sunday School Union, c. 1876.
    Eliza is the eldest daughter of a large and poor family. It is her custom to bring home a basket full of food after work, an act she refuses to see as theft. This book deals with class relationships through a Christian context-several scenes are set in Sunday School.
  • Miller, Basil. Patty Lou of the Golden West: A Girl's Adventure Story. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1942.
  • Miller, Basil. Patty Lou in the Alligator Swamp. Grand Rapids Mich.: Zondervan, 1956.
    This 15 title series revolves around the adventures of a traveling missionary nurse. In Patty Lou of the Golden West, the 14 year old daughter of a sea-faring ship Captain "accepted Christ as her savior, her love of Fun, adventure and a good time did not change." Patty Lou has good clean and thrilling Christian fun, cowgirl style. Other books feature adventures in varied American settings, such as Patty Lou in the Alligator Swamp.

Etiquettes and Girls' Behavior

This section is representative, but not an exhaustive listing of all the prescriptive literature available in the Special Collections Library. A separate bibliography is available on this subject, or, for a more comprehensive listing, search the online catalog for the subject heading "prescriptive literature."

Manners for Girls
  • Bowen, Abel. The Young Lady's Book: A Manual of Elegant Recreations, Exercises, and Pursuits. London: Vizetelly, Branston and Company, 1832.
    Includes chapters on botany, entomology, mineralogy, dancing, riding, archery, embroidery, the toilette, and moral deportment.
  • Leslie, Eliza. American Girl's Book; or, Occupation for Play Hours. Boston: Munroe and Francis, 1841.
    "I have often regretted that so many of the diversions which formerly enlivened the leisure hours of very young people should long since have become obsolete, or only to be found in circles which are yet untouched with the folly and affectation of what is called fashion."
  • Blinn, Henry Clay. Gentle Manners; a Guide to Good Morals. East Canterbury, N.H., 1899.
    "In the education of children and youth, and even of those of more advanced age, there are certain rules of discipline which should be carefully maintained. Our lives are, primarily, for the happiness of those around us, as well as for ourselves, and the social relations which we maintain in society should impress us with this responsibility."
  • Humphry, Mrs. Manners for Girls. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1901.
    "A woman has to wait till she is asked, whether for a dance or for a partnership for life. To men it is given to choose. Women have the comparatively passive rôle of merely accepting or declining."
  • Griffin, Caroline S. The Young Folks' Book of Etiquette. Chicago: A. Flanagan, c1905.
    This little gem has instructions on how to be a polite child, or more bluntly, "strictly obedient" to parents and other adults. Politeness and the appearance of happiness and good nature are imperative.
  • Waterman, Nixon. The Girl Wanted: A Book of Friendly Thoughts. Chicago: Forbes and Co., 1913.
    ". . . there has never been a period of history when a girl was of more importance than she is just now. Indeed, many close observers and clear thinkers are of the opinion that there never has been a time when a girl was of quite so much importance as she is today."
  • Allen, Betty and Mitchell Pirie Briggs. If You Please!: a Book of Manners for Young Moderns. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1942.
    An informally written, yet didactic handbook on how to be a perfect lady (or gentleman), down to the last detail.
    An etiquette quiz tests your manners at the end of the book, and if you are in dire need of more instruction, a bibliography for further reading is also provided. Full of photos, line drawings and trite rhymes to illustrate the need for impeccable deportment.
  • Young, Marjabelle and Ann Buchwald. White Gloves and Party Manners. Washington, D.C.: R. B. Luce, 1965.
    This books claims to be for both boys and girls, though mostly female behavior is prescribed. "Young ladies must learn how to be proper hostesses, but when you go to public places it is the gentleman who takes over."
  • Packer, Alex J. How Rude!: the Teenagers' Guide to Good Manners, Proper Behavior, and not Grossing People Out. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Pub., 1997.
    This humorous and frank guidebook begins with a history of manners and even addresses the idea of traditional manners as sexist. Includes instructions for polite dining, telephone interactions, personal hygiene, and general principles for being a good friend and responsible social citizen.