Advice on Choosing a Place of Residence

Book Excerpt

Background Notes

William A. Alcott, whose experience included practising as a physician and teaching in country schools, became one of nineteenth−century America’s most successful writers of advice books. In his dozens of publications he dispensed advice on health and hygiene, courtship, and success in work, marriage, and parenthood. In The Young Husband, Alcott focused on “the duties of man in the marriage relation” and advised his readers on such issues as keeping a daily journal, controlling the tempers, and leading family prayers. Often Alcott’s advice corresponded with dominant trends and patterns in American family life, but sometimes it did not. In a chapter titled “Choosing a Place of Residence” Alcott suggested that young married couples remain geographically close to their parents, or even live in the same house with them during the first years of marriage. This was advice which the great majority of American couples did not follow. Almost all of them established separate households immediately, and most did not begin married life in the towns in which they grew up. Alcott’s advice, however, underlines the extent to which young American families expected to be independent and thrown on their own resources.

Transcription of Primary Source

Having fixed on an occupation for life, the question now is: in regard to a place of residence. Shall I remain in my native region, or shall I remove? If I remove or emigrate, shall it be to the East or to the West, to the North or to the South? Shall I reside in the city, or in the country?…

In order to decide on a place of residence, there is one question which it is of very great importance to settle; viz.* whether at once to forsake parents. One of the parties, in the common course of things, must do it; and both may. Some, indeed, have questioned the propriety of such a custom…

Is marriage always to be to the female what an elegant writer has expressed it—at once the happiest and the saddest event of her life?…Is not a deep sense of the solemnity of new obligations and new responsibilities enough for her more delicate frame of body and mind to sustain? Must she, in addition to this, quit her home, her parents, her companions, her occupations, her amusements—every thing, in short, on which she has hitherto depended for comfort, for affection, for kindness, or for pleasure?…What husband, who has sensibility, can have it in his heart to demand of her such a surrender? Yet, sustained by custom, almost every one does this, and thinks it a matter of course...

Let woman, since she is willing to do it, cheerfully continue to leave father and mother, and cleave to her husband; but let not husband and wife, without the most imperious necessity, quit the parental roof of both parents, to make the journey of life alone. Let the husband, in one word, consider it his duty, if possible, to remain for a time in his father’s house…The advantages of this arrangement are numerous;—almost too numerous to mention…

In view of the trial to which a wife is subjected, in leaving her father’s house, and her mother’s society, it is exceedingly important that she should, at least, have the society of an adopted mother. And what individual is there, in the wide world, who will be so likely to supply this place, and fill the vacancy alluded to—at least as a general rule—as the mother of the husband? What individuals can be found so likely to prove substitutes for father, and brother, and sister, as the father, and brothers, and sisters of her companion?

But, besides the pleasant and cheerful society of an adopted mother, and the society of the new family in general, she is greatly in need of instruction…

There is no period, I say, in the whole life of a female, when she more needs society, and instruction, and counsel, than the period at which most females marry and assume new duties, and new responsibilities…Nor is it the wife alone who is benefited by this arrangement…The husband, like the wife, needs, at this period of life, more than at any other, except a few years immediately proceeding marriage, the same wise voice and kind hand of parental instruction and guidance.

But matrimony is not all which is necessary. Crazy young men are not transformed in a moment, by this institution, blessed as it is. There is a great work to be done after marriage. Much of this must, it is true, be done by the wife, if it is ever done at all. Still, she cannot do the whole. She needs assistants. Every judicious young man must know and confess this. He knows, and feels, and laments, his own want of knowledge, and wisdom, and strength, to keep in the right path, even with the assistance of his wife. He needs the voice of longer and more accumulated experience.


  • viz. − abbreviation for “videlicet,” meaning: that is to say, namely

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
The Young Husband, or Duties of Man in the Marriage Relation
Edited by Old Sturbridge Village.
Alcott, William A.
George W. Light
Place of Publication: 
Boston, Massachusetts
Old Sturbridge Village