Conduct manuals in 19th century Colombia: Modernity, pedagogy and body*



María Isabel Afanador Contreras[1]

Juan Fernando Báez Monsalve[2]

Universidad Industrial de Santander- UIS


Reception: 02/12/2014

Evaluation: 30/01/2015

Approval: 20/05/2015

Research and innovation article.





The main objective of this paper is to review the literature on the relationship between the concepts of modernity, pedagogy and body, emphasizing the speeches of some conduct manuals published in Colombia during the nineteenth century. To do this, the most relevant literature published in recent years on these points was studied as well as four conduct manuals, to inquire about how the bodies of men and women were portrayed and explicitly or implicitly cast, how their behaviors were idealized and how they were educated for a modern and civilized nation-state. This meant understanding how conduct manuals presented private and public spaces and how these spaces were constitutive of the subjectivity of genders. All the above was carried out with the aim of linking the discourses on civility and the academic arguments of the researchers who have studied these texts.


Keywords: Conduct Manuals, Private and public spaces, Modernity, Education, Body


Manuales de urbanidad en la Colombia del Siglo XIX: Modernidad, Pedagogía y Cuerpo



El objetivo principal de este artículo es realizar una revisión bibliográfica sobre la relación entre los conceptos de modernidad, pedagogía y cuerpo,enfatizando en los discursos de algunos manuales deurbanidad publicados en Colombia a lo largo del siglo XIX. Para ello, fue estudiada la bibliografía más relevante publicada en los últimos años sobre estos puntos, así como cuatro manuales de urbanidad decimonónicos, con el fin de indagar sobre cómo loscuerpos de hombres y mujeresfueron retratados y moldeados explícita o implícitamente, cómo fueron idealizados sus comportamientos y de qué manera se buscó educarlos para un Estado-nación moderno y civilizado. Esto significó entender la forma en que los manuales de urbanidad expusieron los espacios privados y públicos y comprender de qué manera estos espacios fueron constitutivos de la subjetividad de los géneros. Todo con el objetivode relacionar los discursos de la urbanidad y los argumentos académicos de los investigadores que se han dedicado a estudiar estos textos.


Palabras clave: Manuales de urbanidad, espacios privados y públicos, Modernidad, Educación, Cuerpo.






Manuels de politesse dans la Colombie du XIXe siècle: Modernité, pédagogie et corps




Le but principal de cet article consiste à réviser la bibliographie sur le rapport entre les concepts de modernité, pédagogie et corps, particulièrement dans les discours de quelques manuels de politesse publiés en Colombie pendant le XIXe siècle. Pour cela on étudie la bibliographie la plus saillante des dernières années, ainsi que quatre manuels de politesse du XIXe siècle, afin d’enquêter comment est-ce qu’ils ont représentés et donnés forme explicite ou implicite aux corps des hommes et des femmes, et comment ils ont idéalisés ses comportements et de quelle manière ils ont cherché à leur instruire pour accomplir un Etat-nation moderne et civilisé. Ceci signifie comprendre la manière comment les manuels de politesse ont défini les espaces privés et publics et de quelle manière ces espaces ont été constitutifs de la subjectivité des genres. Tout dans le but de mettre en rapport les discours de la politesse et les discours académiques des chercheurs qui se sont consacrés à étudier ces textes.


Mots clés: Manuels de politesse, espaces privés et publics, Modernité, Éducation, Corps


1. Introduction


        The reading of conduct manuals was a constant in Colombian education throughout the entire twentieth century. These texts were a clear reference on the correct forms of behavior for both men and women for the national education system and created the precise guidelines to define good citizens. As pedagogical books, their function has been to stipulate what actions, even thoughts, deserve approval from others, and which ones should be reproached, hidden or simply erased from the collective memory. The conduct manuals, therefore, have stipulated what can be understood as good, correct and worth reproducing. In the political project in which Colombia was inserted since the middle of the nineteenth century, these texts functioned as guides on a difficult road to traverse: to abandon barbarism and to become a modern and civilized nation.

        The discourse of urbanity was legitimized by government agencies and the educational system throughout the twentieth century and still has some force even in the twenty-first century. In the discussions that took place during the formulation of the Ten-Year Plan (2006-2016) carried out by the Ministry of Education, the
Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana asked more than 4,400 people about which subject should be indispensable in elementary and secondary curricula: half of the respondents named urbanity, since they considered that good manners, Christian values ​​and good habits were characteristics that were increasingly distant from the daily behavior of children, youth and adolescents in Colombia[3]. For this reason, due to the importance of urbanity as a pedagogical method, and due to the importance it has had in the educational system and because of the relevance it has had for a large part of the Colombian population, it is necessary to make an outline of how the discourse that these manuals published has been analyzed in terms of genders and the idealization of certain behaviors, taking into account the political project in which they were originally framed and its historical significance.


Thus, as a bibliographical review work, the main objective of this article is to analyze the recent arguments presented by various researchers regarding the relationship between the conduct manuals published in the nineteenth century in Colombia and the concepts of Modernity, Education and Body, in view of the great importance that these texts had in the formal school curricula in the country for much of the nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century, and which were taken up again in the debates of the Ten Year Plan (2006 – 2016) carried out by the Ministry of Education. In order to achieve the proposed objective, we have taken into account, in addition to the consulted bibliography, Manuel de Carreño's Manual de urbanidad y buenas maneras, Elementos de educación by Milciades Chaves, Máximas y preceptos de moral, virtud y urbanidad by Manuel María Zaldúa and Breves nociones de urbanidad by Rufino Cuervo.







2. The dreamed of modernity: body and education


        The end of Spanish colonial rule in America and the unparalleled rise of England as a colonial empire throughout the world brought with it the desire of the Colombian elites to embark on the project of modernity, proper to the European economic powers, successful in the United States, and already adopted by certain circles of the creole elite during the last decades of the eighteenth century[4]. The nineteenth century, especially in its second half, saw how the ruling groups turned economically to free trade and the exportation of raw materials and, in the political sphere, to popular sovereignty. The Liberal and Conservative parties would accept modernity as a panacea in the development of the country, despite their antagonisms[5], and share the values ​​of Western civilization, welcoming them as their own and giving way to the entry of goods and ideas from England, France and the United States[6]. Modernizing the country became a political and economic necessity in the eyes of the national leadership, although among the party elites there was disagreement regarding the way to reach it.

        Progress should, according to the governmental discourse, come to the country by the imitation and appropriation of the customs and forms of Francophone, Germanic and Anglo-Saxon cultures: it was necessary for Colombia, like France, England and Germany, to be Christian, modern and industrial. It seemed necessary to educate the native population for civilization, such as attracting immigrants from the more developed areas of Europe, and inserting the country into the world market through the production and exportation of raw materials. But the immigration project would soon disappear because Colombia could not compete with other countries with greater attractions such as Argentina or the United States. For this reason, the efforts were combined in carrying out an educational reform[7], while the national economy tried gradually to enter the capitalist system, with products such as cinchona, tobacco, indigo and coffee


In addition, the modernizing project sought to educate in the European style. Education for the Colombian population, characterized by being mestizo, mulatto, illiterate and poor, barbarian according to the ruling groups, should begin to inculcate writings in a country dominated by the rhetoric of an elite comprised of lawyers and grammarians. Texts needed to be accessible to the population in order to achieve mastery of the body by the mind. To reach modernity and civilization meant to individually and collectively control actions and thoughts, which are always disordered in the case of non-literate societies. The family and the school became the spaces that would shape the individuals, structuring the ways and forms of controlling everyday behavior: how to eat, dress, talk, and walk[9]. By the end of the nineteenth century, this idea consisted of the refinement of manners and customs, first received by the wealthier classes, by imitating the customs of affluent societies in Europe, especially France.

        Of course, this project would continue to remain a goal of Colombian government policy even after the end of the nineteenth century. During the 1930s and 1940s, the educational system in the country had already taken on a strength capable enough to try to deal with an increasing population, mainly due to the growing urbanization process that took place (through the immigration from the countryside to the cities) and the appearance and diffusion of the media
[10]. The liberal politics of the thirties and forties bet on the modification of education as a form of social control to try to include the population in modern times[11]. Progress, which would be achieved through the universalization of democracy, would put education as its point of departure, for in the eyes of state leadership, social inequality could lead to a popular revolution and the destabilization of the political system in the country, so it seemed necessary to instill an educational culture that would bring the population closer to the elites[12]. Hence the patterns of behavior and culture that upper-class groups had learned and mimicked from European court culture in the nineteenth century would become social canons to impose on the entire population of the country.



         Modernity, or the desire to enter into it, brought with it the premise of a change in the conception of the individual. As Zandra Pedraza argues, the body has since played a more relevant role in shaping subjectivity[13]. This change entailed learning. It was necessary to learn to be modern. The peripheral condition of the country urged a departure from the traditional, to achieve a modern body that, in reality, was never innate or natural[14]. The new modern body, which became a basic requisite for belonging to the dreamed of bourgeoisie, needed to be educated, controlled and regulated. It was necessary to acquire delicacy in emotions and good taste in actions. It was no longer enough to cultivate the spirit; now the body also influenced the development of mind and soul[15].


        The discourse of modernity stipulated, then, a notion of the body and the subject as entities that can be guided, molded and educated to conform and recognize themselves as bodies. Following Pedraza, the idea of ​​a subject who is aware of each of its movements, who always seeks to please others, who fears to show others gestures, smells, fluids, movements and unpleasant postures, became the ideal being in the conformation of the modern nation-state, a stage so desired by the Colombian ruling groups during much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In that sense, the conduct manuals functioned as the basis of this discourse. Urbanity, embodied in texts, described explicitly and in detail each of the points necessary to have a modern body, seeking the internalization of its precepts in the subject ready to be educated to the point that they become actions, emotions and naturalized thoughts.

The conduct manuals, according to Pedraza, had the function of creating a Catholic, bourgeois, civilized, urban subject who felt the Spanish heritage as his own[16]. Urbanity reflected the desire to abandon barbarism, which was typical of the periphery, through the creation of a recognizable bourgeoisie, but which in reality did not fully conform to the conditions that modern discourse determined. In keeping with Melo's claims about the history of modernity in Colombia, urbanity represented, on the one hand, the desire to achieve the modernity that the country did not possess in its nature, as it was nourished by traditional, not modern ideas, which found their justification in the social project of the governing groups themselves. In other words, and returning to Pedraza, in order for the modern discourse proposed by urbanity to be collected, learned and taught, it was necessary that the education should not be disconnected from the Christian and Catholic condition that the subject possessed[17].


         Urbanity, in the educational project for modernity, functioned as the creator and legitimizer of behaviors, thoughts and postures. It assumed, as Guereña asserts, the acquisition of skills based on prohibitions and (self) coercions[18] that were never subjected to criticism and did not need to be explained. It reflected a world in which the individual was mediated by the judicious gaze of others and his own, where a self-taught subject was proposed, where through imitation a person managed to learn for themselves what it meant to be civilized, and reached this qualifier only when others gave their approval[19]. The individual had to mold their subjectivity based on the conception of a society structured by natural hierarchies[20], of the nuclear family as the primary form of life in common[21] and of the homogenization of behaviors. According to Zandra Pedraza:



In spite of the opposition offered by the lordly culture to the advance of the bourgeoisie and its vulgarity, the idea was imposed that urbanity was an apprenticeship in which the individual had to act as his own teacher and, thanks to social contact, acting on oneself, in particular with bodily expressions to influence character. Since urbanity can be learned and taught, it is the competence of the school - which acts as a civilizing agent in Colombia - to transform the human being and make the court code a reliable mechanism of social interaction. [...] To the extent that good manners are demanded of all equally, as the school tries, the nature of urbanity is egalitarian and its orientation democratic; insofar as it requires learning, it equally involves individual transformation and not simply the practice of simulation[22].


        And that is how Colombian governments understood it, at least for much of the nineteenth century: schools used urbanity as a key subject for the (self) teaching of children and young people in the canons of modernity and civilization. For example, in a study carried out by Myriam Báez Osorio in the Normal Schools, created for the training of teachers throughout the country, it was found that, during the period from 1870 to 1886, almost all these educational institutions gave urbanity a formal space in its programmed subjects, especially in schools for women, where the great majority associated "urbanity classes" with others such as "morality", "Christian doctrine", "embroidery", "sewing" "art of cutting", "domestic economy" and "mother language exercises[23]".

In the same way, the inclusion of urbanity in curricula in the country also crossed into the twentieth century, regardless of the political party or ideology that was governing at a given time. In 1904, Decree 497 stipulated the authority that teachers had over children in school and their duty to instruct them in civility, a compulsory subject in primary and in rural schools, as part of "moral education". Twenty-five years later, Decree 1575 of 1929 ordered that, for women's high schools, students should possess a solid knowledge in urbanity and civic instruction[24]. In 1955, the "Home Schools" were regulated for rural girls, for the purpose of instructing them in the governing of the home, agriculture and zootechny aimed at young women in the rural sector between the ages of 14 and 20, Decree 1760 established three years of teaching in which urbanity was a central subject, alongside personal hygiene and housing, food preparation, clothing manufacture, first aid, family morals and notions of liturgy[25]. Even in 2006, Law 1013 amended article 14 of Law 115 of 1994, to include that "the study, understanding and practice of the Constitution and civic instruction, will materialize in the creation of the subject of Urbanity and Civics, which must be taught in pre-school, basic and secondary education in accordance with Article 41 of the Constitution", understanding urbanity as "all those simple guidelines about human behavior that aim to improve social coexistence[26]."

        Now, that the teaching of urbanity has been more intense and common in women than in men for almost two centuries, and that it was accompanied by other subjects such as embroidery, sewing, food preparation and household governance is not a coincidence. The education system and the conduct manuals formulated clear and precise roles for men and women, women being the preferred gender for prohibitions and social sanctions. Thus, urbanity was more strongly present in the curricula of young women who were preparing to become teachers in the nineteenth century, and twentieth-century legislation did the same with rural youth and primary and secondary education. This was because they had a transcendental role in the future of the country: in women rested the fate of the nation and they were the ones who had been entrusted with the maintenance of a modern and civilized homeland. Urbanity, with its insistence on learning courteous behavior, portrayed it.


However, this does not mean that the guidelines of the conduct manuals, at least those studied, would forget male behaviors or allow greater freedoms for men than for women. The conduct manuals actually shaped their prohibitions and precepts based on a universalized masculine language, used even when the message was explicitly addressed to women or girls.



3. The dictates of urbanity: gender and behavior


Perhaps the most famous conduct manual, read and reviewed in the history of Colombia is the Manual de urbanidad y buenas maneras by Manuel Antonio Carreño. Written in 1853 and first published in sections for a New York newspaper and later as a book, the treatise of the Venezuelan diplomat and educator became popular throughout Latin America as it became a flagship text of moral virtue, with certain key precepts to turn the readers into good people. Its creation was linked to the proliferation of other manuals of the same type that were published in Spain and all over Europe at the same time, among them El hombre fino al gusto del día, in 1829, and Tratado completo de Urbanidad en verso para uso de los jóvenes, of 1850[27].

        Along with this, other more modest ones published in the country, some before, some later, often almost transcripts, structured a series of precepts, prohibitions, self-coercion and preventions that, depending on the naturalized differences that each individual had with the rest of the people, sought to maintain a society based on hierarchies and inequalities. The conduct manuals determined how the individual should know and recognize their place based on sex, age and social investiture. If the subject portrayed was a man, a senior, a priest, or a magistrate, he would occupy a different place than if they were a woman, a young lady, a servant or a young man. At that level, the separation between women, married women and young ladies, and between common men and gentlemen was key to understanding the society that the manuals tried to mold in the formation of the nation-state: the inferior person had to give up his space in the street to the superior one. Men needed to do the same with women and young ladies. During social events ladies would have privileges over gentlemen, and a hat should be removed when a lady passed near a gentleman
[28]. The behavior, therefore, needed a hierarchy that had a universal character. Carreño said this:

The attentions and respect we owe to others cannot be used in an equal way with all people indistinctly. Urbanity highly esteems the categories established by nature, society, and God himself: so, it forces them to give preference to some people over others, according to their age, the predicament they enjoy, the rank they occupy, the authority they exercise and the character of which they are invested[29].



        From this essential premise came many others that shaped the relations between the sexes in a precise way. The conduct manuals, no matter the year of publication or their author, had a discourse in which the author was a man who addressed other men, with formulations based on an idea of us, and which referred to women only in third person singular or plural. Carreño says: "If we are able to communicate to our reasoning that degree of heat and energy, which is permitted by educated men in the midst of a decent discussion, bear in mind that, in society, with ladies, we should never depart from a sweet and affable tone in whatever matters we discuss with them[30]." This sweetness that should always characterize male behavior towards women, this us in the face of them, fostered social relations between the sexes, which started from the premise of a woman who should identify herself in the midst of a language directed towards men.

        In other words, all the norms and regulations that these texts proposed were directed to men, even though the most strict and severe prohibitions were prescribed to women.
The manual of Rufino Cuervo, published in 1838, was a specific example of this trend. Although its title made it clear that it was written for the girls of Colegio La Merced, almost all the text was addressed to men (adults), not only by the use of grammatically masculine words, but by translating their regulations into non- feminine bodies. The following quotation explicitly portrays this: "In the other parts of the body [different from the hands] and in the garment, it is in this circumstance that cleaning is more necessary than in any other one. It would therefore be an unforgivable act of rudeness to go and sit at the table in an improper shirt or otherwise not very decent[31]."


Of course, despite the indications written in masculine form, the main objective of proper conduct and its manuals was to pay attention to the female body and its behaviors, especially in public places. And that molding possessed a basic and clear motive: it was the task of women to govern the home[32], a place to which the conduct manuals placed special emphasis, together with the church and the places for social events. Women, therefore, had to be educated for a destiny from which they should not attempt to leave, nor which should be removed from institutions such as the school. As Milciades Cháves clarifies:


If these subjects (cooking, washing, ironing, confectionery, horticulture, morality, urbanity, drawing, etc.) were reduced in our schools, the aversion which many villages have for girls who have contemplated the wonders of astronomy, find the task of cooking or washing low and unworthy, however poor they may be, would be avoided.
And let it not be thought that by this we want the girls to be given such limited instruction, as if all were to become servants.
Let us consider that ignorance, in the depths of the sciences and the fine arts, is not to be missed in women, because this does not dishonor or cause loss.
But ignorance of the governance of the house and of the conduct of chores, as well as of sewing and embroidery, of correct but simple language, of the accounts of rents and expenses, and of the duties of a Christian woman, this displeases and causes contempt



They had a duty to keep the house in order, to clean and to educate their sons and daughters, so that they would be good citizens and exemplary housewives. It is not surprising then that the education of women in their destiny was basic to the fulfillment of their social functions. For this reason, dignity showed itself in women, since they were girls, in their well-dressed appearance and clean dresses[34], while any indiscreet glance, any inopportune smile, any provocative movement, forever destroyed their honor[35]. From infancy, the girl had to learn to behave and reflect sweetness in all her behaviors[36]. The body should make postures, perform actions and move, depending on her age and other circumstances[37]. She must always go with propriety, great modesty and dignity[38], submissive to the decisions of her parents, and accepting all her orders with grace. All this so that, once more, she would become a spectator with too much modesty[39] and without the slightest intention of drawing the attention of others, whether on the street or in conversation. The quiet, submissive woman, always sweet and obliging, fulfilled her natural functions as a housewife[40], raising the children, controlling the management of the domestic economy[41] (an issue that needed to be inculcated since childhood), and always keeping, once more, decorum and composure.

        In addition, for all these tasks that she fulfilled, and because they were born for them, women were considered the most beautiful beings in all of nature
[42] and it would be necessary for men to respect them at all times, to attend to them with the greatest care and never to see them as a competition, including in games of chance[43]. The sweetness of the husband to the wife was the man's response to the unfinished charm of the feminine condition[44]. That is why a man should never touch a woman in public. The fragility of women made their dignity and reputation always hang in the balance. For Carreño, for example, if a woman touched a man that would make her immodest and unconcerned, but if a man touched a woman, he committed a grave and rather gross offense[45]. Similarly, a man's improper words to a woman offended the dignity of the woman, never the man, or his self-esteem. It was the duty of the offended woman to be firmly and moderately respected[46]. Thus, the offending man-made mistakes, but the offended woman was marked inside. The man who spoke improperly could be corrected; for his dignity was not at stake, but the woman who had been outraged (and it was allowed) would never be the same again.


Thus, according to conduct manuals, the natural functions of both women and men had to be fulfilled flawlessly: men performed tasks based on physical work outside the home, obviated in manuals, and women were in charge of the primary pedagogy of the children and of the domestic order. This implied consequences which, though seemingly advantageous to men, should have some control. The masculine and feminine work had a determined limit, in spite of being necessary for the social order. This modesty plays an essential role, as Carreño argues:


Moderation is the regulator of outer manners, both in men and women; but the physical and moral organization of man, the greater agility he acquires in industrial tasks, his immediate contact with the misdeeds of the human heart, the presence of dangers, the reversal of fortune, and the general commerce of life in his constant desire to provide himself and his family with a comfortable subsistence, communicate a certain ease to their exteriority, a certain harshness, a certain air of freedom and frankness, which is entirely peculiar to him, and which remarkably distinguishes his manners from those of a woman.
In the same way that the different natures and the different kinds of life that both sexes have produced, these different properties in exterior manners, women will be careful to guard against that excessive softness that degenerates into ridiculous shyness or rustic shrinkage, and a man of that excessive detachment that communicates to his person a vulgar and unfocused air



That vulgar and unwieldy air that Carreño sought to avoid in men coincided with Rufino Cuervo's claim made about their poor postures and the relaxation of the body to which they were becoming accustomed: "Many men become ridiculous with no other defect than that of having become accustomed to inconvenient attitudes or movements[48]. Therefore, he recommended, almost demanded, the straightness of the back, arms and legs in all scenarios and situations in which a person (and especially adult men) had contact with society. To be at the table, to go to church, to walk on the street, were contexts in which the good postures of the body were to be observed with greater vigor. Everything stooped, bent, convex in body posture was seen by Rufino as defective and it became necessary for young people, from their earliest years, to learn to change their ways of sitting or standing, to avoid falling at all costs into the ridiculous poses in which they could be found, for example, at mass, when they preferred to support their bodies on the wall of the church than to remain in a straight position while the liturgy continued, implying little interest and laziness[49].


        The correctness of the body in the church, at the table and in the street, should be accompanied by behaviors and expressions that would demonstrate, in the same way, individual control. In this case, Manuel Carreño spoke once more about masculine expressiveness and the need to show little weakness in the face of situations, especially extreme situations: "If it unfortunately threatens some danger to the boat we are in, let us surround the ladies; and even when we feel impressed and fearful ourselves, let us try to appear before them calm and serene, in order to comfort them and to communicate to them that degree of courage that is needed in such occasions[50]."
It should be noted that even though nineteenth-century civility manuals allowed men to have attitudes that were less regulated than those of women, in compensation for their expected and obvious work and public life, this did not mean that regulations were void despite that the factories, the bars and the businesses were not fields in which urbanity wanted to interfere. Speaking in masculine grammatical gender, the indications of conduct manuals fell on the whole world and more so when many of these prohibitions and recommendations were made to people dressed in masculine attire such as hats or trousers, which implied the obligation of many regulations stipulated therein. Of course, the straightness of the body and sobriety in emotion did seem to be rules much closer to men than to women.


As already stated, fear, doubt, and weakness were expressions that women could display, while in men, although they were not denied the possibility of feeling them, it was necessary, in the normativity expected for their sex, that they not externalize them, not make them public. In other words, feelings that did not show authority and courage had to remain in the private spaces of men, who, always being in public places or those cohabited by families, women, children, or other men of lesser or greater social rank, would be reduced, according to the manuals consulted, to their own individuality. In this way, while private spaces were for women and their families, for men, privacy was bounded by their own body, a body that, when it was in public, would only demonstrate certain approved behaviors, whereas others could only be felt, but never exposed. The men that cultivation hoped to create and maintain were, then, beings who never forgot their privacy, but who in constantly remembering it did not portray it in society. All the feelings and reactions that men had that could be similar to those that women experienced and showed should remain in the privacy that represented their individuality and not expressed in movements or attitudes. Thus, masculine privacy guarded everything feminine that man could have. Male privacy was, therefore, feminine.


4. Final considerations


        The conduct manuals, as texts demonstrating the process of behavioral change experienced by the West and exported to its (former) colonies[51], meant strict regulation for women, based on the idea of ​​a female personality that was too fragile, beautiful and delicate, although men were not relegated as individuals predestined to public life and to sentimental, familial and social relations with women. Thus, as Carlos Yáñez puts it, while a man existed outside the regulations of manuals, in places where mind, reason and culture prevailed, women were subject to a destiny and became nature, body and emotions[52]. But that male freedom was tolerated, or at least unregulated, only when men were in those places and situations that civility did not touch. Every time a man inserted himself in the spaces that the manuals sought to regulate, he had to comply with a myriad of regulations, which meant using mind and reason in the task of maintaining righteousness, serenity, courage and a little inexpressiveness. The conduct manuals told them to make use of sweetness, delicacy and understanding towards women though never with the idea of ​​resembling them, but to make them feel more secure, calm and protected.


        Just as women should not try to compare themselves with men intellectually, discursively, or in their capacity for strength, men should also not walk the paths of sweetness and delicacy, as actions of the male personality, for their gender imposed righteousness on them as the maximum expression of their personality. Showing delicacy, interpreted as weakness, meant being flawed. Hence, the nineteenth-century civility manuals insisted on the fulfillment of the rules as a true path to righteousness. Perhaps that is why these texts were written by men who did not try to translate their ideas into impersonal language, not even when women were the very reason for their works. Only a man who identified himself as such and portrayed so in his writings, could say and judge what was good and bad, what actions were allowed and what were not, since he was the only one who possessed masculinity, synonymous with public righteousness, and could expose the necessary rules to behave in society.


Now, returning to Yanez, the modernizing project, which sought to shape the body, eliminated the silence of privacy through the manuals of conduct, inasmuch as the domestic space of women was directly related to social and public dynamics: the individual lived permanently learning their role to take them to future collective scenarios that were, in reality, a macro version of their family world. The individual, as an independent subject, therefore, did not exist[53]. In the case of men this learning of public behavior meant eliminating any signs of doubt, buckling or relaxation. Although the rules were more lenient, men´s behavior should be mediated by the reason that he needed to leave his own nature behind. As was already stated, human nature caused feelings of panic to emerge, but the masculine duty warned of the need to channel these feelings and replace them with serenity, that is, men should move away from their nature and fulfill the duties which their masculinity commanded. At the same time, the collective space that made men dependent, once they had learned their functions in the family settings, meant in fact, a constant negation of the expression of feelings. It was legitimate to feel, but never to show those feelings.


         The conduct manuals naturalized functions which, for example, in the case of men, seemed so logical that they were not explicitly named: as Yanezus explained, the man in the conduct manuals was always a father and possessed a stable job, a large house, had money to hire servants, to go on trips, to have furniture, to have free time for visits, to give parties, to have dinners, etc[54]. In addition, as Beatriz González argues, production in conduct manuals was essential: women would produce a domestic space which was key to the formation of the nation, while men dedicated themselves to producing money and goods[55]. Thus, the manuals structured a society that monitored this production. The society of the manuals of conduct watched continuously. Everyone needed and should know that someone would be their judge, at any time, and therefore they had to protect themselves against opinions created about them, especially women[56]. That is why, then, women played an essential role that legitimized their subordination and domination: they structured the family, personified property (private / domestic) and sustained the future of the nation[57]. But the freedom of men ended where the feminine nature began.


        Even if women were asked not to enter into discussions with men, it was because they assumed that men would always be more astute in their speeches, they would always want to speak and would always wish to debate. In these conditions, male freedom was mediated by a compulsory obligation that saw no real options of silence, discretion, and docility. If the conduct manuals sought to make women not talk, excel, and always be delicate, at the same time they saw a dull and quiet man as inconceivable, and did not even feel the need to portray or try to correct him in their pages. This allows us to understand how the manuals of conduct sought to convert women into private beings, but never doubted the male audience.

Finally, conduct manuals were a fundamental part of the process which had always been dreamed of: building a modern Colombia, based on the control of emotions, feelings and the body. The pedagogy of urbanity served as a point of reference for idealizing men and women with certain social functions, the basis of which is the correct, good and desired functioning of the nation-state to be built, while barbarism became increasingly distant and diminutive. According to the specialized bibliography, civility and its manuals constructed an individual who, in addition to his aversion to convexity, bad posture, certain smells, tastes and gestures, was also embedded in an economic system that granted him facilities such as a house of his own, servants, many clothes and friends with similar conditions, and not least the capacity to discern between the clean and the dirty, between that which is beneficial for a good image and harmful for civilization. The instructions and warnings that proper conduct stipulated in each of its lines were not really in line with the reality of a country that did not end up resembling France, England or the United States, countries which Colombian government leaders always sought to imitate, but never achieved.





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Chaves Milciades. Elementos de educación. O sea higiene, moral, urbanidad y economía doméstica para uso de las escuelas y familias. Bogotá: Imprenta de El Heraldo, 1889, (14 de julio de 2014)


Congreso de Colombia, Ley 1013 de 2006, Por el cual se modifica el artículo 14 de la Ley 115 de 1994, Bogotá: Diario Oficial, 23 de enero de 2006, (11 de septiembre de 2014)


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Presidente de la República, Decreto 1760 de 1955, Por el cual se reglamenta el funcionamiento de las Escuelas – Hogar para Campesinas, Bogotá: Diario Oficial, No. 28800, 12 de julio de 1955, (7 de septiembre de 2014)


Vicepresidente de la República, Decreto 491de 1904, Por el cual se reglamenta la Ley 89 de 1903, sobre Instrucción Pública, Bogotá: Diario Oficial, No. 12,122, jueves 14 de julio de 1904, http: //, (2 de septiembre de 2014)


Zaldúa Manuel. Máximas y preceptos de moral, virtud y urbanidad para instrucción, uso y provecho de mis adoradas hijas. Bogotá: Imprenta de Echeverría Hermanos, 1891, (21 de agosto de 2014).


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Cite this article:

María Isabel Afanador Contreras y Juan Fernando Báez Monsalve, “Conduct manuals in nineteenth century Colombia: Modernity, Pedagogy and Body”, Historia y Memoria, No. 11 (July - December, 2015): 57-82.

* This article is framed within the research projectOrganización de Fondos Judiciales del Archivo Histórico Regional de la UIS y Aportes a la Construcción de la Memoria Histórico-Judicial como Patrimonio Regional y Nacional. (Fase2)”, financed by the Universidad Industrial de Santander and with the internal code 1380. At the same time, it has had the support of the research group History, Archival Science and Research Networks from the UIS, category B from Colciencias, to which its authors belong, in the History, Law, Gender and Education lines of investigation.

[1] Lawyer from the Universidad Externado de Colombia, Specialist in

Penal Law from the Universidad Autónoma de Bucaramanga-UNAB, Specialist in University Teaching from the Universidad Industrial de Santander-UIS. Professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Universidad Industrial de Santander-UIS. Research group: History, Archival Science and Research Networks. Email address:

[2] Historian at the School of History and Archival Science of the Universidad Industrial de Santander-UIS. Research group: History, Archival Science and Research Networks. Email address:

[3] Ministry of Education. De vuelta a Carreño”. Official web page of the National Ministry of Education. Consulted (Bogotá: 2007), Taken from Cambio magazine.

[4]Jorge O. Melo. “Algunas consideraciones globales sobre ‘modernidad’ y ‘modernización’” in Colombia: el despertar de la modernidad (Bogotá: Fondo Nacional por Colombia, 1991), 230-232.

[5]Jorge O. Melo. Algunas consideraciones globales... 232-233.

[6]María T. Álvarez, Élites intelectuales en el sur de Colombia. Pasto, 1904-1930 (San Juan de Pasto: Universidad de Nariño, 2007), 46.

[7] María T. Álvarez, Élites intelectuales en el sur…61, 62.

[8]Fabio Giraldo and Héctor F. López. “La metamorfosis de la modernidad” in Colombia: el despertar de la modernidad (Bogotá: Fondo Nacional por Colombia, 1998), 267.

[9]Alicia, Londoño B.El cuerpo limpio. Higiene corporal en Medellín, 1880-1950 (Medellín: Editorial Universidad de Antioquia, 2008), 51-52.

[10]Jorge O. Melo.Algunas consideraciones globales... 241.

[11]Martha C. Herrera.Modernización y Escuela Nueva en Colombia (Bogotá: Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, 1999), 141.

[12]Martha C. Herrera.Modernización y Escuela Nueva… 158-159.

[13]Zandra Pedraza.En cuerpo y alma, visiones del progreso y la felicidad. Educación, cuerpo y orden social en Colombia (1830-1990) (Bogotá: Universidad de los Andes – CESO, 2011), 1-2.

[14]Zandra Pedraza.En cuerpo y alma… 6.

[15]Zandra Pedraza.En cuerpo y alma…10-11.

[16]Zandra Pedraza.En cuerpo y alma… 30-31.

[17]Zandra Pedraza.En cuerpo y alma… 49, 50.

[18]Jean Louis Guereña, “Urbanidad, higiene e higienismo”, Áreas. Revista internacional de ciencias sociales, No 20, (2000): 68,, (25 August 2014).

[19]María F. Lander.  “El Manual de urbanidad y buenas maneras de Manuel Antonio Carreño: reglas para la construcción del ciudadano ideal”, Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies, Vol. 6 (2002): 88, August 2014).

[20]Jean Louis Guereña, Urbanidad, higiene e higienismo… 69.

[21]Valentina Torres S. “Manuales de conducta, urbanidad y buenos modales durante el porfiriato. Notas sobre el comportamiento femenino”, in Modernidad, tradición y alteridad. La Ciudad de México en el cambio de siglo (XIX-XX) (México D.F: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2002), 271-289. (5 September 2014).

[22]ZandraPedraza. En cuerpo y alma… 50, 51.

[23]Miriam Báez O. Las Escuelas Normales y el cambio educativo en los Estados Unidos de Colombia en el periodo radical, 1870-1886(Tunja: Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica e Colombia, 2004), 296-311.

[24]President of the Republic, Decreto 1575 de 1929, Por la cual se reglamenta la enseñanza secundaria profesional para señoritas (Bogotá: Diario Oficial, No. 21205, 28 September, 1929), 1. (4 September, 2014).

[25]President of the Republic, Decreto 1760 de 1955, Por el cual se reglamenta el funcionamiento de las Escuelas – Hogar para Campesinas(Bogotá: Diario Oficial, No. 28800, 12 July, 1955), 1-3, (7 September, 2014).

[26]Congress of the Republic, Ley 1013 de 2006, Por el cual se modifica el artículo 14 de la Ley 115 de 1994 (Bogotá, Diario Oficial, 23 January 2006), 1. September, 2014)

[27]María F. Lander, El Manual de urbanidad…85-87.

[28]Manuel Carreño. Manual de urbanidad y buenas maneras, de consulta indispensable para niños, jóvenes y adultos(Panamá: Editorial América, 1986), 52, 53, 142, 143, 144, 145, 161, 180, 210, 309, 388; Milciades Chaves. Elementos de educación. O sea higiene, moral, urbanidad y economía doméstica para uso de las escuelas y familias (Bogotá: Imprenta de El Heraldo, 1889), 60-62,, (14 July, 2014); Manuel Zaldúa,Máximas y preceptos de moral, virtud y urbanidad para instrucción, uso y provecho de mis adoradas hijas (Bogotá, Imprenta de Echeverría Hermanos, 1891), 20,, (21 August, 2014).

[29]Manuel Carreño. Manual de urbanidad… 52, 53.

[30]Manuel Carreño. Manual de urbanidad…178.

[31]Rufino Cuervo. Breves nociones de urbanidad, abstractadas de varios autores, y dispuestas en forma de catecismo, para la enseñanza de las señoritas del Colejio de La Merced (Bogotá: N. Lara, 1838), 8.

[32]Manuel Carreño, Manual de urbanidad… 91, 107, 108, 112, 137, 138; Milciades Chaves, Elementos de educación… 49, 90, 95-97; Manuel Zaldúa, Máximas y preceptos… 34.

[33]Milciades Chaves, Elementos de educación… 127, 128.

[34]Milciades Chaves, Elementos de educación… 42, 43.

[35]Manuel Zaldúa, Máximas y preceptos… 47.

[36]Milciades Chaves, Elementos de educación… 27.

[37]Manuel Carreño, Manual de urbanidad… 139.

[38]Manuel Zaldúa, Máximas y preceptos… 38.

[39]Manuel Zaldúa, Máximas y preceptos… 14, 31, 32, 41.

[40]Milciades Chaves, Elementos de educación… 24.

[41]Milciades Chaves, Elementos de educación… 29.

[42]Manuel Zaldúa, Máximas y preceptos… 30.

[43]Manuel Carreño, Manual de urbanidad… 355.

[44]Manuel Carreño, Manual de urbanidad… 400.

[45]Manuel Carreño, Manual de urbanidad… 190.

[46]Manuel Carreño, Manual de urbanidad… 196-197.

[47]Manuel Carreño, Manual de urbanidad… 382, 383.

[48]Rufino Cuervo. Breves nociones de urbanidad… 4.

[49]Rufino Cuervo. Breves nociones de urbanidad… 4, 5.

[50]Manuel Carreño, Manual de urbanidad… 172.

[51] To better understand this process, see: Norbert Elias. El proceso de la civilización: investigaciones sociogenéticas y psicogenéticas.(México D.F: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1988).

[52]Carlos Yáñez. Discurso y representaciones sociales de las identidades culturales en el Manual de Urbanidad de Carreño, (Manizales: Ediciones Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2010,), 58.

[53]Carlos Yáñez. Discurso y representaciones… 91, 95, 102.

[54]Carlos Yáñez. Discurso y representaciones… 37.

[55]Beatriz González, “Economías funcionales. Diseño del cuerpo ciudadano”, Cultura y Tercer Mundo, Tomo II(Caracas: Nueva Sociedad, 1996), 19, 20.

[56]Beatriz González, Economías funcionales… 22-26.

[57]Beatriz González, Economías funcionales… 32.