Michigan State University

Harland, Marion, 1830-1922

Terhune, a novelist and writer of domestic manuals, biographies, histories, and travelogues, was born in Dennisville, Amelia County, Virginia, the second daughter and third of nine children. Her mother, Judith Anna Smith, was a native of Virginia, and distant relative of Captain John Smith of the Jamestown colony. Her father, Samuel P. Hawes, was born of a prominent Massachusetts family: he went to Virginia to pursue his mercantile business and became a wealthy Richmond businessman during Terhune's childhood. Terhune spent her early years in rural Virginia, where tutors educated her and her siblings, and her father encouraged her to study. At age thirteen she was sent to live with an aunt near Hampden-Sydney College and the Union Theological Seminary. She was tutored there for nine months by a dedicated theology student, Robert Howison, whom Terhune recalled as the greatest influence in shaping her life. A graduate of the University of Virginia, Howison was instructed by Terhune's father to educate Terhune and the other girls "as if they were boys preparing for college." Terhune, always a book-lover, thrived on the unfettered access she had to the college and seminary libraries. Soon after her stay, her father moved the family to Richmond, where Terhune attended a prominent Presbyterian school for girls, whose pupils included the daughters of congressmen, merchants, and rich James River planters. Terhune prided herself on maintaining a high rank among students who had received many more years of formal, urbane instruction.

At age sixteen Terhune began writing fiction. With a knack for painting a scene, she soon started contributing to magazines under the pen name "Marion Harland," and won a prize in 1853 for a temperance piece that appeared in a literary weekly, Southern Era. Her family, who greatly enjoyed her stories, encouraged her to publish. After a local publisher rejected a manuscript for her novel, Alone, her father published it himself in 1854. Alone received enthusiastic reviews and was re-published in 1856 by the New York firm, J.C. Derby. It sold more than a hundred thousand copies, and launched Terhune's long career as a prolific writer. In fiction alone, she wrote twenty-five novels and three volumes of short stories. Mostly antebellum plantation romances, her stories featured heroines who were exemplary domestic women, never independent but always capable.

Also in 1856, Terhune was married to Edward Payson Terhune, a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey who was temporarily serving in a Richmond parish. The couple moved to Newark, New Jersey in 1859, where the minister had accepted a pastorate. Terhune would live in the North the rest of her life, though her love of Virginia and her southern family ties remained strong. The couple had six children, three of whom survived childhood. All became authors, and her youngest, Albert Payson Terhune, was especially popular as the author of well-loved dog stories.

In 1871, after publishing more than fifteen novels, Terhune published her first cookbook, Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery. Terhune was raised, according to one account, "to regard the role of homemaker as that offering a woman the greatest possibilities for self-fulfillment," However, in the Southern tradition, the lady of the house did very little cooking or cleaning. When describing her mother as a good housekeeper, Terhune explains, "She had old and competent servants. I doubt if she had ever swept a room, or roasted a piece of meat, in her life." Terhune's initiation into cooking, she recounts in her 1910 autobiography, began after moving to New Jersey in 1859, and was due to the incompetence of her own cook, a hired hand from a neighboring residence in Newark. After the cook fried a steak almost to a crisp, Terhune felt it necessary to teach herself and her cook how to properly prepare food. She unpacked her five cookbooks - gifts from friends - and was disappointed with the advice they gave. One of the cookbooks she consulted that day was written by Eliza Leslie, also represented in this collection. When Terhune confided in a close friend her lack of cooking skills, and how little Leslie's book could help her, Terhune's friend remarked on the cookbooks, "All written by old maids, or by women who never kept house. To my certain knowledge, Miss Leslie has boarded in a Philadelphia hotel for twenty years." Heeding her friend's advice to master one thing at a time, and to compile the results for a personal collection, Terhune began what became Common Sense in the Household, a successful cookbook that sold one hundred thousand copies in its first ten years and was translated into French, German, and Arabic.

Common Sense was a general guide with an alphabetical listing of subjects for easy reference; its recipes were clear and its advisory tone was re-assuring though somewhat condescending by modern standards. Her second cookbook, Breakfast, Luncheon and Tea (1875) continued in the same style, but with fewer recipes and more "Familiar Talks," - entertaining personal essays interspersed among the recipes. Historically fascinating for the modern reader, the passages set down Terhune's view of a woman's capabilities, opportunities, and duties and how she could control her own successes and failures.

Terhune felt that women needed to uncomplainingly shoulder their household duties. She reports that one reader wrote her after reading Common Sense, and asked why she should devote herself to housekeeping when it is never finished. Terhune answered, "Nothing in this world, or in all time, is finished. Or, if finished, it is not well with it." When another reader asked why it is worthwhile to neglect one's talent for the sake of a perfectly appointed home, Terhune held up the example of Emily Bronte, reading German while she kneaded the bread. " In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, if a woman has genuine talent, she will find time to improve it even amid the clatter of household machinery."

Terhune believed that women needed to pursue "double honor": to perform the household duties admirably and to find time to develop outside talents and achievements. Adopting a modern view, she believed efficiency was the means to satisfy both one's obligations and one's personal interests. "Why do women dawdle away seconds and minutes and hours in playing at work, or affecting to play?" she asks in Breakfast, Luncheon and Tea. Her sense of annoyance was automatic due to her natural ability to fit in everything, as she explained in one interview:

Domestic duties have never hampered me. On the contrary, I work better . . . I have knit a pair of cradle blankets for my grandchild in the intervals of composition, thinking out page by page, as the needles played, and laying them down now and then, to commit the digested thought to paper.

For those women not blessed with such efficiency, the priority, according to Harland, was the home. She writes in The Arena (1890):

If you have not the executive ability to arrange a systematic plan of daily labor, stand in your lot and do the duty that lies nearest your hand so well that the just Father will show you the way to the second. Another may write your story, or poem, or essay. Nobody else in all the universe can mother your boy, or be your girl's guide and best friend.

Breakfast, Luncheon and Tea concludes with Terhune's opinion that every woman needed a profession or a "specialty." In a modern fable, she relates how the middle class woman should not be shunned for pursuing a means of livelihood; rather, all women should use their influence to overcome the prevailing prejudice against women working, so that none may suffer the degradation and misery of genteel poverty.

Altogether Terhune published twenty-five books on homemaking and domestic advice, and contributed articles on homemaking to many magazines. She edited the Home-Maker (1888-90) and the Housekeeper's Weekly, and wrote a syndicated column on women's affairs for the Philadelphia North American (1900-10) and the Chicago Tribune (1911-17), which were re-printed in twenty-five newspapers. Terhune found great satisfaction in her role as syndicated advisor to the masses. Admitting this labor was not "literature," she wrote in her autobiography, " . . . but it is Influence, and that of the best kind."

Later in life, Terhune became interested in travel writing. In 1893, at the age of sixty-two, she and her son took a horseback tour of Palestine and Syria and she wrote of the trip in Home of the Bible (1895). She wrote travel sketches based on her lengthy travels in Europe, historical sketches inspired by colonial history, and biographical studies, including one on her favorite novelists, Charlotte Bronte. Terhune's tough domestic philosophy of capable women taking care of the home and serving their own ambitions was, in part, a reaction to the pampered women of the slaveholding South that she grew up with, and an embracing of the spirit of Northern efficiency and the Union which she supported. But she continued to have sympathy and affection for the South. Her biography of the mother of George Washington, The Story of Mary Washington (1892), aided in fundraising that paid for the Mary Washington Monument in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Her work with Virginia historical societies helped to re-establish her relationship to her native state, which had been strained by her Union sympathies.

Terhune's husband died in 1907, but Terhune remained active into her eighties, publishing a slim volume on her personal philosophy, Looking Westward, in 1914, and her last novel, The Carringtons of High Hill, in 1919, when she was totally blind. She died at age ninety-one at her New York City home. Her obituary in the New York Times reported that Terhune, when once asked what the secret to her energy was, replied, "If you want to stay young, have some work you like, something to get you up in the morning. I don't mind growing old. Up on the tableland of age the air is invigorating."

Sources

  • Bolton, Sarah K., Successful Women. Boston: Lothrop Publishing Company, 1888.

     

  • Cross, Merrit, Notable American Women 1607 - 1950: A Biographical Dictionary. Vol. III. Ed. Edward T. James. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

     

  • Harland, Marion, Breakfast, Luncheon and Tea. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1875.

     

  • -----Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1873.

     

  • -----"Domestic Infelicity of Literary Women." The Arena (August 1890).

     

  • -----Marion Harland's Autobiography. New York: Harper & Bros., 1910.

     

  • "Marion Harland, Author, Dies at 91," The New York Times, June 4, 1922.

     

  • McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women: A Biographical Dictionary from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1980.

     

  • Moss, Elizabeth, Domestic Novelists in the Old South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.

     

  • Smith, Karen Manners, American National Biography. Vol. 21. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford, 1999.

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