Initially published in 1841, A Treatise on Domestic Economy was revised and appeared in its final form the following year when it was issued by Harper and Brothers. According to Kathryn Kish Sklar, in Catharine Beecher A Study In American Domesticity, the Treatise was in its fourth printing by the summer of 1843, and "was reprinted nearly every year from 1841 to 1856." [Sklar, 151.] With the Treatise, the supplementary receipt book first published in 1846, Letters to Persons Who Are Engaged in Domestic Service (1842), and Letters to the People on Health and Happiness (1855), Catharine Beecher became a national authority on domestic well-being.
Apart from its clarity and effectiveness in explaining the various aspects of domestic life - everything "from the building of a house to the setting of a table," Beecher's Treatise was remarkable for two reasons. First, its scope was both broad and peculiarly American. According to Sklar, "In 1840, women who relied on written rather than oral instruction in domestic arts had to read separate books on health, child care, housebuilding, and cooking, or else rely on English compendiums that drew these topics together but were, in their extensive use of servants, inappropriate for American readers. Catharine's was the first American volume to pull all the disparate domestic employments together and to describe their functions in the American environment." [Sklar, 151-2.]
The second reason for the Treatise's significance was its focus on the psychological aspects of domestic success. As Beecher understood it, woman's position was a careful balance of psychological, physical, and economic health. As a whole, these combined parts exerted a great influence on the religious, political, and social state of the nation and the world, and indeed determined humanity's ultimate destiny.
To the contemporary as well as the modern reader, there are obvious contradictions between this ideological view and the actuality of woman's position in the 1840's. Beecher devotes most of her first chapter to an effort to reconcile the inequality inherent in the political and social system of the day with the tenets of democracy and Christianity.
PECULIAR RESPONSIBILITIES OF AMERICAN WOMEN
American Women should feel a peculiar Interest in Democratic Institution. The Maxim of our Civil Institutions. Its Identity with the main Principle of Christianity. Relations involving Subordination; why they are needful. Examples. How these Relations are decided in a Democracy. What decides the Equity of any Law or Institutions. The Principle of Aristocracy. The Tendency of Democracy in Respect to the Interests of Women. Illustrated in the United States. Testimony of De Tocqueville. Miss Martineau's Misrepresentations. In what Respects are Women subordinate? and why? Wherein are they equal or superior in Influence? and how are they placed by Courtesy? How can American Women rectify any real Disadvantages involved in our Civil Institutions? Opinion of De Tocqueville as to the Influence and Example of American Democracy. Responsibilities involved in this View, especially those of American Women.