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professor judith wilt a short history of domesticity and separate spheres
Professor Judith WiltA Short History of “Domesticity,” and “Separate Spheres”
  • In early modern culture, marriage is an incontrovertible sacrament, and “the family” is a structure for the production and education of new generations, the accumulation of land and wealth and status, and the orderly inheritance by legitimate children of the accumulated products and cultures of the past. By the 19th century the ideal of “happiness” is added.
history of domesticity
History of Domesticity:
  • After the Reformation, England was the only Protestant country without some form of legalized divorce
  • 17th and 18th century, divorce available by EXPENSIVE! Acts of Parliament
  • In law, the male head of the family “stands for” all its members, controls its wealth, including the key wealth –children.
  • 1836, the Infant Custody Bill alters the law in favor of maternal custody of small children, secular marriage by public registrars now possible
  • 1857, the Divorce Act protects the property of separated or deserted wives, and allows some access by wives to petition for divorce on grounds of adultery
history of domesticity3
History of Domesticity
  • 1869, women can vote in municipal elections; national suffrage waits until 1918
  • 1870 Education Act establishes elementary education as a national right for both genders, a new profession for women as well
  • 1882, Married Women’s Property Act secures women’s ownership of their wealth or property regardless of marital status
history of domesticity4
History of Domesticity
  • In “Revolutionary” times freedom movements always include calls for the restructuring of family government as well as civil government, and foster heightened awareness of the potential analogies between hierarchies and “enslavements” in class, race, gender.
  • 1791, Thomas Paine, The Rights of Men
  • 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women
separate spheres
Separate Spheres:
  • John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) : “he for God only, she for God in him”
  • John Ruskin’s “Of Queen’s Gardens” (1863) “His intellect is for speculation and invention; his energy for adventure, for war, and for conquest, wherever war is just, wherever conquest necessary. But the woman’s power is for rule, not for battle, and her intellect is not for invention or creation, but for sweet ordering, arrangement, and decision.”
separate spheres6
Separate Spheres
  • John Stuart Mill’s, On the Subjection of Women. (1869), “The association of men with women in daily life is much closer and more complete than it ever was before… At the present time, the progress of civilization and..the improved tone of modern feeling as to the reciprocity of duty which binds the husband toward the wife have thrown the man very much more upon home and its inmates, for his personal and social pleasures, while the kind and degree of improvement which has been made in women’s education has made them capable of being his companions in ideas and mental tastes.”
separate spheres7
Separate Spheres
  • Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations’s professional man, Wemmick (1861) “’No, the office is one thing and private life is another.’ .….At half past eight precisely we started for London. By degrees, Wemmick got dryer and harder as we went along, and his mouth tightened into a post-office again. At last, when we got to his place of business and he pulled out his key, he looked as unconscious of his (suburban) home as if had all been blown into space.