Ms. Claus was the face of feminism in the 19th century. She didn’t need a man to do the job. / LGBTQ Nation

Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” redefined Christmas in America. As historian Steven Nissenbaum explains in “The Battle for Christmas,” Moore’s secular Saint Nick weakened religious associations for the holiday, turning it into a family celebration that culminated with Santa’s toy deliveries on the day. Christmas Eve.

Nineteenth-century writers, journalists, and artists were quick to provide details about Santa Claus Moore’s poem left out: a toy workshop, a house at the North Pole, and a roster of bad guys or good guys. . They also decided that Santa Claus was not single; he was married to Mrs. Claus.

Related: How To Find The Misfit Toy Island

Yet researchers tend to overlook the evolution of Santa’s wife. You’ll see brief references to a handful of late 19th century Ms. Claus poems, particularly Katharine Lee Bates’ “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride” from 1888.

But as I discovered when I started working on a Christmas literature course, the writers who created Ms. Claus weren’t just interested in filling in the blanks in Santa’s personal life. Poems and stories about Mrs. Claus in popular newspapers and periodicals spoke of the central role of women during the Christmas holidays. The character also provided a canvas for exploring contemporary debates on gender and politics.

The most hard-working woman in the North Pole

Christmas in 19th-century America depended on the time and labor of women: women prepared family celebrations, organized community and religious events, and worked in industries that fueled the seasonal demand for cards, toys, and clothing.

This work was both essential and at times exhausting: as the century drew to a close, the Ladies’ Home Journal urged its readers not to “bother preparing for Christmas”.

Many of Ms. Claus’ literary performances paid tribute to the long hours, practical craftsmanship and managerial skills that were required in preparing for the women’s vacation.

Sara Conant’s 1875 short story “M. and Mrs. Santa Claus, ”which appeared in an 1875 issue of Western Rural: Weekly Journal for the Farm & Fireside, celebrated these efforts by describing Ms. Claus working alongside women across America as they cooked, cleaned and sewed. In Ada Shelton’s 1885 story “In Santa Claus Country”, Santa Claus admitted his debt to Mrs. Claus: Without his hard work, he could “never get through” the Christmas season.

But on Christmas Eve, Mrs. Claus hit the glass ceiling at the North Pole.

For Conant, Mrs. Claus was as “indispensable” as Santa Claus, an equal partner in the “common work” of preparing for the holiday festivities. Yet in most publications about Mrs. Claus, Santa Claus roamed the world filling stockings while Madame Noel stayed at home to await his return. In the 1884s, “Mrs. Claus Asserts himself”, Sarah J. Burke’s tearful Mrs. Claus, ignored by Santa Claus and her fans, is left “to curl up alone” squeezing the fingers she had. ” worked to the bone “as Santa Claus accelerates on his sleigh.

A few writers, however, rewarded Ms. Claus’ hard work with a sleigh ride.

Georgia Gray’s 1874 short story “Mrs. Santa Claus’s Ride “allows Mrs. Claus to venture out on her own, but only after Santa Claus – categorically” not a woman’s rights man “- promises her to remain invisible. To avoid questioning authority of Santa Claus or the belief that women belonged to the household, the anonymous author of the 1880 tale “Mrs. Father Christmas Eve” fabricates an emergency: Santa Claus left without dolls, so Mrs. Claus must saddle Blitzen and deliver them.

Mrs Claus on the naughty list

Other writers were less willing to allow Mrs. Claus out of the house.

Negative portrayals of her Christmas Eve trips reflected negative reactions to women’s demands for independence and the vote. The majority of Ms. Claus’ writings took place after the Civil War, alongside efforts by states and the country to grant women the right to vote.

Publications aimed at women did not necessarily advocate for more rights and political power. In 1871, the popular women’s magazine Godey’s Lady’s Book published an anti-suffrage petition to Congress signed by a number of prominent women, with Godey’s editor-in-chief Sarah Hale urging readers to collect additional signatures. Like Georgia Grey’s Santa, the petition argued that women’s place was at home, not in public.

“Mrs. Santa Claus’s Adventure ”, which appeared in the December 1, 1871, issue of Wood’s Household Magazine, warned against disobedient women. Refusing to believe that some children were too mean to visit, Mrs. Claus trades places with Santa on Christmas Eve. But when she tries to descend from the chimneys to offer gifts, she is attacked by “hate imps” who embody the “naughty words and deeds” of the children. Depicting Ms Claus’ plea for children as unrealistic and naive, Dickinson echoes anti-suffrage arguments that have highlighted the dangers that await women who have abandoned home.

A cartoon from December 7, 1895, issue of the satirical magazine Judge, shows a male-looking Santa Claus on a bicycle, leaving Santa and his children behind as she pedals to deliver Christmas presents.
Judge

MB Horton’s “A Fresh Start” takes its title from the National Woman Suffrage Association’s failed strategy to register female voters. The 1879 story – published, like the anti-suffrage petition, in Godey’s Lady’s Book – discredits women’s rights activists with its negative portrayal of Mrs. Claus, titled “Mrs. Claus.” Saint-Nicolas ”in this story.

Jealous of Santa’s fame, Mrs. St. Nick tries to deliver gifts for him, but her plot to usurp Santa’s role as the gift-giver fails when Santa tricks her into delivering a gift. bag of worthless and embarrassing merchandise.

Ms Claus seems an unlikely target of anti-suffrage propaganda, but her association with the Ultimate National Day made the idea of ​​an independent Ms Claus particularly shocking.

‘Goody Santa Claus’ takes the reins

The 19th-century writings on Ms. Claus focused primarily on her work ethic and whether that job would ever allow her to participate in the Christmas limelight of Santa Claus.

But academic and suffragist Katharine Lee Bates, better known as the author of “America the Beautiful,” took a different approach: she gave Claus a voice and a personality of her own.

Building on elements of Ms. Claus ‘previous literature, Bates’ “Goody Santa Claus on A Sleigh Ride” creates an outspoken Mrs. Claus who loves her job and her husband – and isn’t about to be left behind when Santa Claus makes his deliveries.

Like Burke’s discouraged Mrs. Claus, Bates’ Claus – whose title, Goody, replaces “Mrs.”. – begins his monologue with a question: Why does Santa Claus get “all the glory” when he has “only work”?

“Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh-Ride” first appeared in the children’s periodical Wide Awake. While the illustrations feature Ms. Claus as affectionate, grandmother, and non-threatening, Bates’ text reveals the power behind Goody’s soft exterior.

Mrs. Claus places a kiss on Santa Claus.
Katharine Lee Bates’ Goody Claus was both affectionate and outspoken.
Falmouth Historical Society

Most of Ms. Claus ‘literature highlights her domesticity, but Bates’ Goody is equally adept at housework and outdoor chores. While Santa nibbles on Christmas treats and relaxes by the fire, Goody tends to Christmas trees, an orchard and plants that grow toys; she also raises cattle and undertakes the risky task of chasing thunder to “make firecrackers with lightning.”

Although Santa allows Goody to ride alongside him, her resume at the North Pole isn’t enough to convince him that she has enough “brains” to fill a stocking, and he fears seeing her climb a chimney. “Shocks his nerves”. “Left alone on the roof while Santa Claus does his job, Mrs. Claus looks outside as she peers through the skylight.

But the holes in a poor child’s Christmas stocking stop Santa Claus in his tracks: tailoring was Mrs. Claus’s department. Seizing her chance to shine, Goody fixes the sock, proving the value of women’s work and breaking Santa’s rules about climbing the chimney and filling stockings.

The themes and intrigues of Ms. Claus ’19th-century writing – including stealth sleigh rides – reappear in Ms. Claus’ tales to this day, and for good reason. Katharine Bates’ thunder-chasing, bonnet-capped, talkative Goody – and the many Mrs. Clauses who came before her – still speak to all the women who have always dreamed of a little rest, a little bit of sleep. recognition and a place in the sled.The conversation

Maura Ives is Professor of English at Texas A&M University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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