Mary Cary Ambler kept a diary during her trip to Baltimore to have herself and her children inoculated against smallpox. Her stay at Mrs. Chilton’s turned out to be longer than expected. She would have been bored had Mrs. Chilton not given her access to the family library. “A Rainy Day (very dull) if it were not for Books & knitting . . . would be at a great loss how to fill up the Day.” One of the books she read was James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women (1765)—it was one of the most popular books at that time on women’s conduct. She was so struck by a passage that she copied it into her diary, noting that it was “transcribed for the use of the Copi[e]st & She begs her Daug[hter] to observe it well all her Life.”
If to Your natural softness You join that christian meekness, which I now preach; both together will not fail, with the assistance of proper reflection and friendly advice, to accomplish you in the best and truest kind of breeding. You will not be in danger of putting yourselves forward in company, of contradicting bluntly, of asserting positively, of debating obstinately, of affecting a superiority to any present, of engrossing the discourse, of listening to yourselves with apparent satisfaction, of neglecting what is advanced by others, or of interrupting them without necessity.
Kevin J. Hayes, the author of A Colonial Woman’s Bookshelf from which the above paragraph is taken, notes that women commonly shared books during that period and among them were likely to be “conduct” books, containing advice on how young women should comport themselves. He adds that diaries many women kept were among the books on the shelf in their homes to be consulted and read by family members, in this case, Mary Ambler’s daughter Sarah.