There is no practice which has been more extensively eulogized in all ages than early rising; and this universal impression is an indication that it is founded on true philosophy. For it is rarely the case that the common sense of mankind fastens on a practice as really beneficial, especially one that demands self-denial, without some substantial reason.
This practice, which may justly be called a domestic virtue, is one which has a peculiar claim to be styled American and democratic. The distinctive mark of aristocratic nations is a disregard of the great mass, and a disproportionate regard for the interests of certain privileged orders. All the customs and habits of such a nation are, to a greater or less extent, regulated by this principle. Now the mass of any nation must always consist of persons who labor at occupations which demand the light of day. But in aristocratic countries, especially in England, labor is regarded as the mark of the lower classes, and indolence is considered as one mark of a gentleman. This impression has gradually and imperceptibly, to a great extent, regulated their customs, so that, even in their hours of meals and repose, the higher orders aim at being different and distinct from those who, by laborious pursuits, are placed below them. From this circumstance, while the lower orders labor by day and sleep at night, the rich, the noble, and the honored sleep by day, and follow their pursuits and pleasures by night.
It will be found that the aristocracy of London breakfast near midday, dine after dark, visit and go to parliament between ten and twelve at night, and retire to sleep toward morning. In consequence of this, the subordinate classes who aim at gentility gradually fall into the same practice. The influence of this custom extends across the ocean, and here, in this democratic land, we find many who measure their grade of gentility by the late hour at which they arrive at a party. And this aristocratic folly is growing upon us, so that, throughout the nation, the hours for visiting and retiring are constantly becoming later, while the hours for rising correspond in lateness.
The question, then, is one which appeal to American women as anmatter of patriotism and as having a bearing on those great principles of democracy which we conceive to be equally the principles of Christianity. Shall we form our customs on the assumption that labor is degrading and indolence genteel? Shall we assume, by our practice, that the interests of the great mass are to be sacrificed for the pleasures and honors of a privileged few? Shall we ape the customs of aristocratic lands, in those very practices which result from principles and institutions that we condemn? Shall we not rather take the place to which we are entitled, as the leaders, rather than the followers, in the customs of society, turn back the tide of aristocratic inroads, and carry through the whole, not only of civil and political but of social and domestic life, the true principles of democratic freedom and equality? . . .
To this we must add the great neglect of economy as well as health in substituting unhealthful gaslight, poisonous, anthracite warmth, for the life-giving light and warmth of the sun. Millions and millions would be saved to this nation in fuel and light, as well as in health, by returning to the good old ways of our forefathers, to rise with the sun, and retire to rest "when the bell rings for nine o'clock" . . .
Another reason for early rising is, that it is indispensable to a systematic and well-regulated family. At whatever hour the parents retire, children and domestics, wearied by play or labor, must retire early. Children usually awake with the dawn of light, and commence their play, while domestics usually prefer the freshness of morning for their labors.
If, then, the parents rise at a late hour, they either induce a habit of protracting sleep in their children and domestics, or else the family are up, and at their pursuits, while their supervisors are in bed. Any woman who asserts that her children and domestics, in the first hours of day, when their spirits are freshest, will be as well regulated without her presence as with it, confesses that which surely is little for her credit.
It is believed that any candid woman, whatever may be her excuse for late rising, will concede that if she could rise early it would be for the advantage of her family. A late breakfast puts back the work, through the whole day, for every member of a family; and if the parents thus occasion the loss of an hour or two to each individual who, but for their delay in the morning, would be usefully employed, they alone are responsible for all this waste of time.
But the practice of early rising has a relation to the general interests of the social community, as well as to that of each distinct family. All that great portion of the community who are employed in business and labor find it needful to rise early; and all their hours of meals, and their appointments for business or pleasure, must be accommodated to these arrangements. Now, if a small portion of the community establish very different hours, it makes a kind of jostling in all the concerns and interests of society. The various appointments for the public, such as meetings, schools, and business hours, must be accommodated to the mass, and not to individuals. The few, then, who establish domestic habits at variance with the majority, are either constantly interrupted in their own arrangements, or else are interfering with the rights and interests of others. This is exemplified in the case of school.
In families where late rising is practiced, either hurry, irregularity, and neglect are engendered in the family, or else the interests of the school, and thus of the community, are sacrificed. In this, and many other matters, it can be shown that the well-being of the bulk of the people is, to a greater or less extent, impaired by this self-indulgent practice. Let any teacher select the unpunctual scholars – a class who most seriously interfere with the interests of the school – and let men of business select those who cause them most waste of time and vexation, by unpunctuality; and it will be found that they are generally among the late risers, and rarely among those who rise early. Thus, late rising not only injures the person and family which indulge in it, but interferes with the rights and convenience of the community; while early rising imparts corresponding benefits of health, promptitude, vigor of action, economy of time, and general effectiveness both to the individuals who practice it and to the families and community of which they are a part.
Published in Stowe, Catharine and Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1872. The American Women's Home, or Principles of Domestic Science. (New York, NY: J.B. Ford & Co.): 191-196. Available online at: https://archive.org/stream/americanwomansh00stowgoog#page/n205/mode/1up.