Published by Bowles & Carver After Robert Dighton – London, 1785 The British Museum

The Masonic image below utilizes a compass, a Masonic symbol, an emblem of virtue representing restraint and self-control, to illustrate a lesson in conduct. The ideal woman of that time was supposed to stay within the bounds circumscribed by the compass and “Enter not into the way of the wicked and go not in the path of evil men.” At the corners of the print are behaviors of “fallen” women.

In the upper left a mother is not caring for her child properly; the infant appears to be slipping from her lap. In the top right a woman is shown working in a tavern. In the lower left a woman is standing in a street selling things to make money. In the lower right we see a prostitute soliciting some men. All of these activities are, it is suggested, inappropriate and demeaning for a woman.

The reward for behaving “properly” is written around the circle: “Keep within compass and you shall be sure to avoid many troubles that others endure.” In addition to proscribing certain behaviors on the part of women the illustration describes the appropriate relationship between husband and wife: in a marriage the woman should tend to the family and depend on the man to work and provide for them; her role is to be the “Virtuous Woman” and “a Crown to her Husband.”

Symbol keep within compass


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