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“power through repose”

as to what shall be done with an accumulating mass THE " PUTTERING ” WOMAN . of daily papers which the ragman will jump at the A Portrait. / chance of calling for regularly once a week.

— OCR cross column confusion at Frederick Stanley Root, “The ‘Puttering’ Woman. A Portrait.” in Good Housekeeping (April 1897) : 159

entire, below —

To “putter,” which is essentially the derivative from “potter,” is a hard word to define and easy to understand. It means to busy oneself about trifles and to work to little purpose. It means a vast expenditure of nervous energy on matters that might be lightly dismissed or relegated to others, and the consequent failure to gain “power through repose,” or culture through the elevation and concentration of the life. And one of the saddest sights in the world is to see a woman occupied strenuously with innumerable and self-imposed household nothings!
      I do not of course refer to “the trivial round the common task” of duties in separable from household management, the rearing and reading oc children, the economics of the commissariat and the like. Women of capacity discharge such duties with promptitude and thoroughness and will find leisure for church and social obligations, for the writing and reading of books, for healthful recreation. I mean rather by “puttering” the over-emphasis which is put upon trifles of little or no importance, trifles that may as well be left to servants, the exaggeration of household details, the gradual contraction of a woman’s life to such pettiness of environment as will ultimately dwarf the higher powers and faculties. And this baneful tendency is not confined to any particular class or women. It is not a question of poverty or wealth whether a woman shall become a mere household “putterer.” It is a question of intelligence, of will power, of management, of innate capacity. Not infrequently as pastor of a church I have found that the women in my congregation who read the best books, lend a helping hand to philanthropy, respond to appeals for workers, and keep abreast with their husbands in knowledge of current and weighty topics are those having but one servant and from two to three children.
      No. The habit of “puttering” is the foe of all classes of women who fall by insensible degrees into the snare of “much troubling about many things” of no vital importance whatever. The woman of this type may possess excellent qualities of mind and heart; but they are in danger of being swallowed up in the sea of the infinitesimal. She comes down to breakfast forecasting muddy coffee; she goes to bed at night anxiously debating whether the raspberry jam was stored away on the second or the third shelf of the pantry. And from the time of getting up to the time for sleep her mind is drawn, as by a potent magnet, to trifles that do not materially affect the ensemble of household management. Now it is worry as to what shall be done with an accumulating mass of daily papers which the ragman will jump at the chance of calling for regularly once a week. Now it is a bad quarter of an hour because she decided to let Jack go to school without his reefer. Now there is a crease of irritation in the white forehead if the servants are five minutes late in putting on the dinner, and the habit of exaggerated concern is so fixed that if her husband fails to arrive promptly from the office he must surely be mangled by a cable car or overcome by apoplexy.
      The “puttering” woman is never able to get away from herself. In the maelstrom of the self-centered she cares less and less for social enjoyment and recreation, for books and reading, because her whole mind is taken up with determining whether the family ark of a trunk shall go up garret or remain in the back entry, or a hundred trifles of equal moment. Poor soul! Her originally fine nature may be warped or twisted by this failing until the good housewife grows unbearably petulant and rasping. So unnerved, in fact, that when Molly and Jack return from school they are soundly “spanked” for climbing over back fences on the way home while the exhausted mother sits down to cry, and discovers in tears the only swift relief from nervous tension.
      There is a family likeness in all portraits of the “puttering” woman. Her type is one of the most unvarying in all creation. But the encouragement of the situation is that the present athletic, out-of-door life for girls is building up a race of young women, who, when married, will begin their careers with a reserve fund of strength, energy, buoyancy, and accumulated power to which their mothers were strangers. And the mothers themselves who “putter” may win back much that bas been lost of larger interest in larger worlds by resolutely building a new physical life on the modern scientific basis of physical culture.
      — Frederick Stanley Root.

Frederick Stanley Root (1853-1906)

“About nine years ago Mr. Root retired from the ministry and became Secretary of the American Social Science Association and one of the eitors of the Association publication, dividing his time between New Haven and New York.. At the time of his death he was engaged on an important work dealing with certain economic conditions of the country.”
— from obituary in the Yale Alumni Weekly (January 24, 1906) : 325

Annie Payson Call (1853-1940) — power through repose

Power through Repose is the title of a book by Annie Payson Call, published in 1891. Several copies are available, including this (at hathitrust, along with scans of other of her publications). Annie Payson Call wrote what today might be termed “self-help" essays and books, which were essentially devoted to mental health.

John M. Andrick (2012) writes, “Call’s approach to nerve training blended Delsartean relaxation exercises, New Thought psychology, and self-hypnotic techniques into a therapeutic regimen...” She was a figure in the somatics movement; her “admirable little volume” called Power of Repose was endorsed by William James in “The Gospel of Relaxation” in : 218

A search for the word “puttering” in her scanned writings, yields nothing, btw.


  1. John M. Andrick, “Delsartean Hypnosis for Girls' Bodies and Minds: Annie Payson Call and the Lasell Seminary Nerve Training Controversy,” in History of Psychology 15:2 (2012) : 124-144
  2. Hiie Saumaa, “Annie Payson Call’s Training in Release and Somatic Imagination,” in Dance Research Journal 49:1 (2017)
  3. Matthew Zepelin, From Esotericism to Somatics : A History of Mind-Body Theory and Practice across the Divide of Modernism, 1820s to 1950s (PhD dissertation, UC Boulder, 2018), via academia.edu
    abstract —
    This dissertation is the first historical monograph on somatics, a field of practices and related network of professions offering applied methods for mind-body awareness and integration. Although somatics has most commonly been associated with the Human Potential Movement of the 1960s, this study demonstrates the existence of related intellectual and practice genealogies that form the nineteenth-century background to somatics, and that themselves show continuity with forms of mind-body thought and practice in the early modern era. Using the tools of intellectual history, the research project covers a range of figures and schools from the 1820s through the 1950s, laying the groundwork for future projects in the history of somatics. Standout themes from the study include overlaps between the history of somatics and the history of Western esotericism; the syncretic quality of somatic worldviews, which has led to both creativity and instability in the relationships between somatics, science, and spirituality; the reciprocal flows of influence between somatics and the performing arts; and the prominent role played by women in the formation of early somatic methods in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
  4. Annie Payson Call (wikipedia)

14 March 2022 (link corrected 20240207)