On a recent post-Christmas shopping excursion through Cabela’s, I stumbled upon The American Girls Handy Book: how to Amuse Yourself and Others, by sisters Lina Beard and Adelia B. Beard, with a modern forward written by Anne M. Boylan. It’s said that “you can’t judge a book by its cover”; however, both the title and cover of this book are intriguing enough that it made its way into my shopping cart, and it left me hoping for a good read. It didn’t disappoint!
As a modern day outdoorswoman, I am a do-it-yourselfer, an adventurer, a naturalist and, sometimes, a rule breaker. The American Girls Handy Book is all of these things, and more. Originally written in 1887, the book provides a glimpse into outdoorswomen of years past, and serves as inspiration to outdoorswomen of the present and future.
The book is organized by season and provides projects and activities for the American girl (or woman,) primarily focused on embracing nature. Sections of the book are antiquated and not necessarily applicable to modern day living; however, those sections are still entertaining and provide a glimpse into American outdoors history. The more dated sections of the book include instruction on how to host an April Fool’s party, how to construct our own Maypole in celebration of May Day and old-fashioned needlework. I cannot help but read the pages and wonder if these activities should be brought back?
Other sections of the book still apply to the way we lead life today in 2014, including instruction and reference on wildflowers and preservation, how to make a crab-net work basket, how to make leaf prints, how to draw and apply botany to art and how to make your own hammock (including a hammock from an old whisky barrel). Despite the age of the book, the projects’ instructions are clearly written and easy to read. Accompanying illustrations also are very well laid out and easy to follow.
Reading the pages of The American Girls Handy Book inspired me to step outside the boundaries of my normal outdoor activities. When I hike and hunt, for instance, I typically always carry my camera to help capture the memories of my adventure. Through their writings, Lina and Adelia encouraged me to take a step back in time and embrace a more simple way of life. Chapter 21 of this book describes how to draw or sketch from nature — something at which I have never excelled. On my last few excursions, I opted to leave the camera at home and take a stab at preserving my memories with pencil and paper in my journal. By following the simple instructions in the book, I sketched the scenes from the outdoor activities that I wished to preserve. I found that, although my drawings are not all that great, doing this activity helped me to relax and actually memorialize my adventures. It sufficed as a great alternative to the digital experience.
There are other activities in The American Girls Handy Book that I cannot wait to put into use. In fact, I recently procured an old whisky barrel and hope to build a hammock of my own by following the easy instructions laid out in the book. I cannot think of a better way to relax after an early-season hunt than to return home, grab a good book and relax in a hammock! I will, of course, be sharing my barrel-hammock-making-adventure with TeamWON.
Lina and Adelia were trailblazers. In fact, Lina helped form both The Girl Pioneers and the Camp Fire Girls. As I read the pages of “The American Girls Handy Book” I realized I that this book is responsible for encouraging and empowering the women who came before us, helping them to embrace their outdoor heritage and connect with nature. As modern day outdoorswomen, it is important for us to know where we came from in order to know where we are headed.
The Beard sisters write in the book’s preface, “One of our objects is to impress upon the minds of the girls the fact that they all possess talent and ability to achieve more than they suppose is possible, and we would encourage a belief in the truth of the remark said to have been made by a famous Frenchman: ‘When you Americans undertake anything you never stop to ascertain if it be possible, you simply do it.’” The Beard sisters rose to the occasion, and they “simply did it.” They empowered and inspired the American outdoorswomen of their time. Now, it is our turn to carry on the torch.
The American Girls Handy Book is a fun, anecdotal read, providing both a glimpse into American history, as well as a guide to practical, do-it-yourself projects for the traditional outdoorswoman.
It is available at major bookstores nationwide, including Amazon.com.
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