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Shakespeare & Beyond

A Guide to Ladies: Hannah Woolley's missing book emerges from the archives

A Guide to Ladies by Hannah Woolley
A Guide to Ladies by Hannah Woolley
A Guide to Ladies by Hannah Woolley

A Guide to Ladies by Hannah Woolley, 1668. W3278.5. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Hannah Woolley is no longer a household name, but her name was practically synonymous with the household in Restoration England. Along with the almanac writer Sarah Jinner, she was the first Englishwoman to make her living as an author, beating out Aphra Behn, who is usually granted that distinction, by a decade or so. In a genre then dominated by men, Woolley forged a new path as an author of domestic manuals and books of cookery and preserving, ultimately becoming so popular that her name appeared on new books after her death in order to give them the stamp of authority.

She was the Martha Stewart of her time, the English-speaking world’s first female lifestyle guru. Housewives copied her instructions into their own handwritten recipe books, passing down her advice and rhetorical style to subsequent generations. Her books went through numerous editions; one was translated into German.

One of these books has sat hidden in plain sight at the Folger since 1990—included in the Folger online catalog, but missing from an international database that scholars often use to search for early English books. It’s a slim, small, unassuming volume of domestic advice, with the fairly generic title A Guide to Ladies, Gentlewomen, and Maids. It was published by Woolley in 1668, soon after the restoration of King Charles II. It is the only known copy of the book in the world.


[…] One of the big reveals of this panel discussion was that the Folger holds a unique copy (as far as we know, the only surviving one in the world) of one of Woolley’s books: A Guide to Ladies, Gentlewomen and Maids, (London, 1668, Folger W3278.5). This book is almost never included in the Woolley canon, so it’s a big (re)discovery. (For more on this text and its importance, David Goldstein has written a post about it: give it a read!) […]

A Wild and Woolley Week - The Collation — May 24, 2019