Mendelson, Cheryl 1946-

views updated

Mendelson, Cheryl 1946-


Born August 6, 1946, in Jefferson, PA; married; children: a son. Education: Rochester University, Ph.D.; Harvard Law School, J.D.


Lawyer, scholar, and writer. Practiced law in New York, NY; taught philosophy at Purdue University and Columbia University.


Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, illustrated by Harry Bates, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.

Morningside Heights (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 2003.

Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linens, illustrated by Harry Bates, Scribner (New York, NY), 2005.

Love, Work, Children (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 2005.

Anything for Jane (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 2007.


Cheryl Mendelson spurred a debate among feminists at the turn of the millennium over what exactly women should be doing with their homes. A former corporate lawyer and a professional philosopher, she analyzed and codified the craft of keeping a perfect house in her book Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House.

Mendelson was born in 1946 and grew up in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, raised, in part, by her Italian and Anglo-American grandmothers, who taught her their housekeeping secrets. She then abandoned her homemaking talents for a time to pursue education and a career, earning a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Rochester and then a law degree from Harvard University.

After law school, Mendelson went to work as a corporate attorney, putting in the long hours typical of the profession. She neglected her apartment and her life and ultimately found it unsatisfying; she claimed she "felt like a cog in a machine." After a series of domestic awakenings, she realized that she liked taking care of people and things. She began collecting old household manuals and eventually compiled the fruits of her reading in the 884-page encyclopedic Home Comforts. Mendelson did careful research into housekeeping-related topics, ranging from how to store potatoes to how to determine the thread count of a fabric.

In addition to creating a guide for housekeeping, Mendelson examines the forces that led women of her generation out of the home and into the workplace. She suggests that not only did her parents assume that housekeeping in the future would be utterly unlike that of the 1950s, but also the women of her parents' generation jealously guarded housekeeping knowledge. Mendelson herself, having experienced both the working world and the life of a homemaker, claims that caring for a home is at least as satisfying as working in an office. "If you want boring drudgery, she writes, become a lawyer," wrote Commentary contributor David Brooks. "Work at home … offers at least as many satisfactions—and then some."

Mendelson's book was immediately successful. The author appeared on Martha Stewart's television show twice in September, 1999, which helped drive Home Comforts back to press twice before its official release that November. Reviewers were generally positive in their appraisals of the book. Newsweek contributor Laura Shapiro commented that Mendelson writes with "grace, wit, and exactitude on a staggering range of material." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that, "while Mendelson's advice occasionally borders on the obsessive, it's never dull." Several reviewers noted that Mendelson's book fills a gap left by mothers who had not taught their [children] basic housekeeping skills, and provides the modern world with an ultimate authority on all matters domestic. "At last," wrote Shapiro, "[here is] a domestic manual that strips gracious living of its gender and makes it a survival skill."

In addition to her housekeeping advice, including a second book titled Laundry: The Home Comforts Book of Caring for Clothes and Linens, Mendelson has also written novels. Her 2003 debut novel, Morningside Heights, features the genteel inhabitants of an upper-crust Manhattan neighborhood near Harlem. The novel follows two musicians, Charles and Anne Braithwaite, as they and their growing family soon find themselves unable to afford to live in the increasingly expensive neighborhood. When an elderly neighbor woman dies and leaves everything to Anne, the couple become suspicious after the woman's lawyer tells them that their dead neighbor really had nothing to leave behind. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "thoroughly likable debut fiction … narrated in an old-fashioned leisurely style with enough subplots, mysteries, and denouements to keep any reader engaged for the duration." Wilda Williams, writing in the Library Journal, noted the author's "fully fleshed characters, so human in their frailties and foibles."

Love, Work, Children is the sequel to Morningside Heights and once again features the rich inhabitants of the Morningside Heights neighborhood in Manhattan.

Focusing on the Frankl family, which includes Lesley, Peter, and their two grown children, Susan and Louis, the author tells a story of family life gone awry due to a number of factors, including an accident, death, and an extramarital affair. Tina Jordan, writing in Entertainment Weekly called the novel "faintly genteel, polished, and quiet." Several other critics also referred to the author's story as being reminiscent of older novels and novelists. A Publishers Weekly contributor, for example, wrote: "This is a deliberately old-fashioned novel of manners, morals, character and happy endings, reality be damned." Writing in Kirkus Reviews, a contributor commented that "the author certainly knows her neighborhood, and she has polished an elegant, omniscient prose style modeled on the finest English novelists."



Commentary, February, 2000, David Brooks, review of Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, p. 61.

Country Living, March, 2001, Matthew Holm, "The Science of Cleaning," p. 22.

Entertainment Weekly, June 13, 2003, Gregory Kirschling, review of Morningside Heights, p. 99; August 5, 2005, Tina Jordan, review of Love, Work, Children, p. 70.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of Morningside Heights, p. 562; June 15, 2005, review of Love, Work, Children, pp. 659-660.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 5, 2000, Kathy Martin, "Book Makes Daily Chores into More than Chores," p. K1336.

Library Journal, August, 1999, Bonnie Poquette, review of Home Comforts, p. 129; April 15, 2003, Wilda Williams, review of Morningside Heights, p. 123; July 1, 2005, Wilda Williams, review of Love, Work, Children, p. 70.

New Yorker, July 24, 2000, Rebecca Mead, review of Home Comforts, p. 75.

New York Times Book Review, December 19, 1999, Corby Kummer, "Joy of Cleaning," pp. 12-13; August 3, 2003, Emily Barton, review of Morningside Heights, p. 22; September 18, 2005, Gregory Cowles, review of Love, Work, Children, p. 22.

Newsweek, November 8, 1999, Laura Shapiro, "All in a Day's Housework: Move over, Martha," p. 96.

Publishers Weekly, October 4, 1999, "Home Remedies," p. 71; December 13, 1999, Judy Quinn, "A Millenial Mrs. Beeton," p. 23; April 14, 2003, Jeff Zaleski, review of Morningside Heights, p. 45; June 27, 2005, review of Love, Work, Children, p. 41.

Time, March 13, 2000, Sarah Vowell, "I Won't Launder My Dish Towels: But Thank You, Home Comforts, for Pointing out the Germs," p. 78; October 31, 2005, Andrea Sachs, "Spin-Cycle Guru: Cheryl Mendelson Spreads the Gospel of Doing Laundry Well—And Loving It," interview with author, p. W15.

Whole Earth, winter, 2000, review of Home Comforts, p. 34.

Women's Review of Books, June, 2000, Martha Nichols, review of Home Comforts, p. 9.


A Book A Week Blog, (January 23, 2007), review of Morningside Heights.

About this article

Mendelson, Cheryl 1946-

Updated About content Print Article