How Ms. Claus fueled the debate on gender roles
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 “Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus,” celebrated these efforts by describing Mrs. 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 âindispensableâ as Santa Claus, an equal partner in the âcommon workâ 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.
A few writers, however, rewarded Ms. Claus’ hard work with a sleigh ride.
Georgia Gray’s 1874 short story âMrs. Santa Claus’s Ride “allows Mrs. Claus to venture out on her own, but only after Santa Claus – categorically” not a man of women’s rights “- promises her to remain invisible. The anonymous author of the 1880 tale” Mrs. Santa’s Eve âfabricates an emergency: Santa Claus left without the dolls, so Mrs. Claus must saddle Blitzen and deliver them.
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. Like Georgia Grey’s Santa, the petition argued that women’s place was at home, not in public.
Charles S. Dickinson of 1871 âMrs. The Adventure of Santa Claus, âsuggested a warning. 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.
Ms Claus seems an unlikely target of anti-suffrage propaganda, but her association with the Ultimate National Day made the idea of ââan independent Ms Claus particularly shocking.
“Goody” 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.
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 makes his deliveries.
Bates’ Claus – whose title, Goody, replaces “Mrs.”. – begins his monologue with a question: Why does Santa Claus get âall the gloryâ when he has âonly workâ?
“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.
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”. ”
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.
Maura ives is Professor of English at Texas A&M University. This article originally appeared in The Conversation, a nonprofit news source dedicated to uncovering ideas from academia for the public.