Antebellum Womanhood and Taming Her “Wild Way”: Pet Keeping, Mourning, and Social Indoctrination in Grace Greenwood’s History of My Pets

Elizabeth A. BoylePurdue University
Vol. 37, No. 1 (Spring 2018), 111-129

This essay investigates intersections among childhood pet keeping, maturation, maternity, and sentimental mourning practices in Grace Greenwood’s History of My Pets (1851), a collection of vignettes that traces its author’s development into womanhood as she experiences her pets’ deaths. Greenwood’s stories illustrate how a young girl’s pet keeping enables her maturation into a respectable middle-class woman by introducing her to the transformative symbolic and bodily processes connecting maternity with mortality. As pet keeping helps Greenwood learn the gendered responsibilities she is expected to fulfill in adulthood, it also helps her communicate a distinctly personal sense of self. Ultimately, History of My Pets emphasizes pet keeping’s ability to familiarize girls with the cultural rituals they will be expected to perform as adults; more importantly, it celebrates pet keeping as an experiential practice that enables young women to take ownership of the social narratives their bodies tell.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]