Conduct Books in the Plimpton Library
PATRICIA A. CAHILL
Among the 16,000 volumes that George A. Plimpton pre¬
sented to the University in 19 3 6 is a remarkable collection
of books on the subject of women's education. Although
this collection contains copies of many important treatises—books
such as the first English translation of Anna Maria van Schurman's
16 5 9 work. The Learned Maid, or Whether a Maid May Be a Scholar?
A Logick Exercise Written in Latin (and answered vigorously in the
affirmative) and an early edition of Emma Willard's IS19 Address to
the Public... Proposing a Plan for Improving Female Education, an
appeal by the well-known educator to members of the New York
legislature—this fact alone does not explain why the collection is
remarkable. The collection is remarkable not because it contains
these treatises, but because it also contains numerous textbooks,
what Plimpton termed "the tools of learning" themselves. And
what makes it most remarkable is that among these volumes are
dozens of conduct books for women.
Conduct books setting forth proper behavior for women have
been around for centuries; indeed, one may trace the precursors of
such contemporary works as Miss Manners' Guide to Rearing Perfect
Children and the Cosmo Girl's Guide at least as far back as the four¬
teenth century when Geoffrey de la Tour Landry compiled the
Book of the Knight of the Tower as a guide for his three daughters.
Despite their long history and perennial popularity, however, such
works are absent from the shelves of many rare book libraries. Their
absence can in part be explained by the fact that relatively few con¬
duct books have survived: Often published in cheap editions, they
were practical texts, not intended to last through the ages. But no
doubt the main reason one cannot find them in the stacks is that few
An exhibition of female conduct l)ooks will be on \ieu- in the Rare Book and Manuscript
Library through December 31. 1992.