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Ages 13+
Under 13
Black and white photo of Mark Twain's face

Mark Twain’s Irreverent Advice to Little Girls


Although little is known about it, Twain dedicated some observant essays to children.

Mark Twain, one of the most scathing and relevant writers of American Literature, did not just bequeath the extraordinary Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; he also left a handful of brilliant essays. Under such peculiar titles as Advice to Little Girls, and with his usual irony and sense of humor, Twain placed therein thin veins of wisdom which speak of the depths of the human condition.

Advice to Little Girls is a compendium of politically incorrect recommendations which invites young girls to think for themselves and to ignore certain restrictions imposed by adults. Each one of his pieces of advice appeals to the girls’ healthy criteria, and mocks, intelligently and cunningly, the social expectations for girls in 1865 ––and which undoubtedly can be transferred to current times. With tenderness and conviction, Twain asked children to “stand on their tiptoes” to understand adult language and humor, bestowing them with a sort of initiation towards freedom of expression.

Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.

If you have nothing but a rag-doll stuffed with sawdust, while one of your more fortunate little playmates has a costly China one, you should treat her with a show of kindness nevertheless. And you ought not to attempt to make a forcible swap with her unless your conscience would justify you in it, and you know you are able to do it.

You ought never to take your little brother’s “chewing-gum” away from him by main force; it is better to rope him in with the promise of the first two dollars and a half you find floating down the river on a grindstone. In the artless simplicity natural to this time of life, he will regard it as a perfectly fair transaction. In all ages of the world this eminently plausible fiction has lured the obtuse infant to financial ruin and disaster.

If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud—never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desirable results. You secure his immediate attention to the lessons you are inculcating, and at the same time your hot water will have a tendency to move impurities from his person, and possibly the skin, in spots.

If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won’t. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.

You should ever bear in mind that it is to your kind parents that you are indebted for your food, and for the privilege of staying home from school when you let on that you are sick. Therefore you ought to respect their little prejudices, and humor their little whims, and put up with their little foibles until they get to crowding you too much.

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