Born 25 June 1937, Crestline, Ohio
Married Charles Morgan, 1964
Marabel Morgan recalls that "I never saw a happy marriage when I was young. I grew up amid a lot of fighting. My father left when I was three, and then my mother married a policeman who adopted me. I adored him." The family was poor, despite the long hours Morgan's father worked. Until her father's death, Morgan's parents were "in the throes of divorce.… I was being wrenched between one parent and the other.… I had packed and unpacked my few belongings at least a dozen times."
As a beautician, Morgan earned enough money to study home economics for one year at Ohio State University. After a conversion experience, Morgan worked with Campus Crusade for one year at the University of Miami, where she met and married a law student. Entering marriage with high expectations, Morgan was quickly disappointed. She found herself tense, nagging, and resentful, repeating the unhappiness of her childhood home. Her four principles for pleasing husbands were developed in an attempt to save her own marriage—accept him, admire him, adapt to him, appreciate him.
Morgan first shared her principles with friends, and then began teaching "Total Woman" classes and hiring other women to help her teach. When Morgan was urged to write up her classes, her editors warned her to keep the writing at a fifth-grade level, which was no problem, she says, since "I'm a two-syllable person." Morgan's writing in Total Woman (1973, reprinted and translated into several languages) and its sequel Total Joy (1976) is breezy, simple, and directed at women like herself—full-time homemakers whose husbands are quite affluent.
The principle of adapting is the most controversial part of Morgan's books. She concludes: "God planned for the woman to be under her husband's rule." In an interview, Morgan admitted the ideal is for the husband and wife to discuss decisions and make them together. But if the attempt at compromise fails, the only two alternatives she sees are for the wife to go the husband's way, or for them to split up. The wife usually gets her own way, however, by submitting and using ancient "feminine wiles"—and the rewards for adapting are usually material. Total Joy reflects the criticism of the materialism of Total Woman, concentrating more on affection and less on presents.
Morgan was among the first to tell Evangelicals that sexuality and godliness are not incompatible, which may explain why her book was the number-one bestseller of 1947. Morgan presents two principles: sex is necessary for a man, and he will get it elsewhere if he doesn't get it at home; and sex is as "clean and pure as eating cottage cheese." Morgan's advice (to meet the husband at the door dressed in a "costume" or to put suggestive notes in his lunch box, for example) may seem silly and immature, but by playing these games, with the encouragements of other "gals" in the class, some women are apparently able to develop a more positive attitude toward their own sexuality.
The primary weaknesses of Morgan's books are her logical fallacies and her encouragement of materialism and manipulation. Her strengths lie in her stress on self-acceptance, hints for efficient home management, positive attitude toward sexuality, and apparently genuine love for her family and faith in God.
The Electric Woman: Hope for Tired Mothers, Lovers, and Others (1985). Marabel Morgan's Total Woman Cookbook: A Handbook for Kitchen Survival (1980).
Fallon, J. L., A Rhetorical Analysis of The Total Woman Movement (thesis 1979). Howard, A., and S. R. Tarrant, eds., Reaction to the Modern Women's Movement: 1963 to thePresent (1997). Meier, M. M., The Husband-Wife Relationship: A Critique of Three Popular Female Christian Philosophies (thesis, 1978).
Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
Christian Century (8 Dec. 1976). National Review (25 Apr. 1975). NYT (28 Sept. 1975). Time (14 Mar. 1977). Wittenburg Door (Aug.-Sept. 1975).
—MARGARET P. HANNAY