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Women, Gender, and Middle Class Values. 1830s-1850s. Introduction. Today we are going to look at two significant ideas that emerged in the first half of 19th century. Domesticity emerged by the 1830s. It suggested that the home and domestic life was best place for women's energies.

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  • Today we are going to look at two significant ideas that emerged in the first half of 19th century. Domesticity emerged by the 1830s.

    • It suggested that the home and domestic life was best place for women's energies.

  • By 1848, we would see the emergence of feminism and demand for equal rights for women, best expressed at a meeting of women at Seneca Fall that year.

  • Within the next decade some women would declare that marriage was slavery for women.

  • Our task then is to explain this rapid transformation relating to gender and gender roles for American women in first half of 19th century


  • The movement altered perceptions of women's sphere and gender relations.

    • sex is physiological difference (objective)

    • gender is social construction of sex, how we understand and interpret sexual difference (subjective)

Transformation of family life and roles
Transformation of Family Life and Roles

  • Pre 19th c. saw economic activity centered on household

    • dominate unit of production/ reproduction and consumption

    • division of labor was inside the household

    • not a harmonious relationship

    • based on hierarchy and inequality

Transformation of family life and roles1
Transformation of Family Life and Roles

  • Head of household invested with rights of household

    • men owned the farm/shop and were primary productive labor

    • women had important but subordinate role

    • supplemented farm/shop work

    • In rural society, women did gardening, spinning and other domestic chores

  • Legally women dependent like children

    • property and earning belong to male

  • Interdependence

    • apparent as central role of women's work for survival of household and self-sufficiency

  • Fathers had primary role of raising children especially sons

  • there was a gray area of gender distinction which permitted women to do men's work but not vice versa

Impact of market economy
Impact of Market Economy

  • Made people more dependent on purchase of goods

  • Household no longer center of production

  • Emergence of separate spheres with “outside world” economic sphere seen as a male sphere

  • The household then became women's sphere

  • Stripped many of their “productive” functions

  • Household activities and childrearing though difficult, was a different type of household work

Impact of market economy1
Impact of Market Economy

  • Social and economic changes changed role and experiences of married and single women

    • single women more available to do factory work

    • Factory work was an extension of gender division of household

    • domestic servants or spinning and weaving in mills

    • some women took on new occupations like teaching

    • unmarried women were poorly paid and exploited but work and social experiences varied

    • married women had more restricted and less varied opportunities (less social)

The cult of domesticity
The “Cult of Domesticity”

  • The cult of domesticity was a cultural ideal that emerged as a central ideal or view within the middle class

    • this ideology stressed the importance of and role of the home as a site of social and cultural “reproduction”

    • Working class women did work and couldn't uphold such norms

  • Home considered a retreat or refuge

    • Linked to a concern with social change

    • Home and outside world became “opposites”

  • Home a place of affection which was new in 19th century


  • The ideology of domesticity was essentially a critique of new economic and social changes that increasingly dominated 19th century life

    • Implied an acceptance of the new world

    • home considered a refuge

    • A tempererof society

  • Home thus facilitated broader social and economic changes by offering an escape from those changes

  • A gendering process: home to be a comfort, instilling a morality that encouraged self-control and fostered elevation and veneration of the home and family and its preservation


  • Read the excerpt below. Write two sentences describing its meaning.

  • "O! what a hallowed place home is when lit by the smile of such a being; and enviably happy the man who is the lord of such a paradise. . . When he struggles on in the path of duty, the thought that is for her in part he toils will sweeten his labors. . . Should he meet dark clouds and storms abroad, yet sunshine and peace await him at home; and when his proud heart would resent the language of petty tyrants, "dressed in a little brief authority," from whom he receives the scanty remuneration for his daily labors, the thought that she perhaps may suffer thereby, will calm the tumult of his passions, and bid him struggle on, and find his reward in her sweet tones, and soothing kindness, and that the bliss of home is therby made more apparent."


  • Impact:

    • The cult of domesticity justified a new sphere for women within household

    • Encouraged a new and important role for women in a changing society

    • since in theory the household was not part of outside world (and its self-interest and competition), the home provided a sanctuary for men


  • Women’s major social role now focused on childrearing because of new ideas of regarding the malleability of character

    • As women’s role in production declined, the role of motherhood stood out

  • The republic required the raising of good, moral citizens –the burden and responsibility was placed on women

    • husbands corrupted by outside world

Sponge activity
Sponge Activity

  • Cause and Effect

    • Put the events below in chronological (cause/effect) order

    • Explain how one led to the next.

    • Cult of domesticity

    • Spread of the Market

    • Women’s rights movement begins

    • Women’s role in the household altered

    • Women join religious and moral reform movements

Changing size of the middle class family in the 19th century
Changing size of the Middle-Class familyin the 19th century

  • Example from Utica, NY averagenumber of childbirths

    • 1810: 5.8

    • 1820: 5.1

    • 1830: 3.6

  • Abstinence and abortion led to decline

  • Abortion was culturally and socially acceptable even to many ministers in 19th c. and increasingly common during the century

  • The goal of smaller families was to maintain middle class status

  • Children increasingly viewed as an expense since labor not needed


  • The cult of domesticity provided a solidarity of women

    • Implied equal relationships were to be found only with other women

    • diaries and such show the growing importance close relationships among women

    • They shared many of same experiences and sex-segregated world

Sisterhood and the 2 nd great awakening
Sisterhood and the 2nd Great Awakening

  • Church and religion brought women together and also helped them extend female sphere to certain public issues.

  • Women would play a major role in the 2nd Great Awakening: a religious revival of religion that began in the early 1800s

    • Led by various Protestant denominations including Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians

    • Held camp meetings where thousands sang, prayed and participated in emotional demonstrations of faith

Sisterhood and the 2 nd great awakening1
Sisterhood and the 2nd Great Awakening

  • Overwhelming presence of women. Why?

    • Uncertainty of the future

    • ideas of domesticity fit women closer to humanistic ideas of church

    • The 2nd Great Awakening emphasized behavior and need to spread ideas. It made them great candidates for missionaries.

    • Ministers often encouraged them to join religious organizations because women possessed virtue to cleanse society

Women rights and reform
Women' Rights and Reform

  • The growing sense of sisterhood-created climate for some women to question their subordinate place/role in American society

  • Work in abolitionist movement provided women with valuable experience in organizational tactics

    • growing awareness of similarities between oppression of women and that of slaves

    • Women initially advanced their ideas within a religious context which blunted criticism and public outrage

Abolition and women s rights
Abolition and Women’s Rights

  • The Grimke sisters are a good example of the growth of women’s rights movement out of abolitionism (the call for the immediate end of slavery)

    • Angelina and Sarah left father's plantation in SC and converted to Quakerism and moved onto abolitionism soon after

    • In 1837, they were told to stop speaking to mixed (sex) crowds. Sarah responded that men and women were created equal

    • one anti-slavery organization soon insisted on equal roles for women within their organization

  • The Grimke sister became some of the first women from the South to work on behalf of abolition.

Seneca falls 1848
Seneca Falls, 1848

  • The growing belief that women could play an important “virtuous” role outside of the home fueled the start of the women’s movement for equality by the late 1840s.

  • Female leaders organized the Seneca Falls Convention in New York in 1848

    • A convention called by several female leaders most associated with abolitionism which outline coherent program for women's equality

  • Two organizers of the conference, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott met at a world anti-slavery conference in England

  • The event marked the beginning of the woman’s rights movement.

Seneca falls 18481
Seneca Falls, 1848

  • The convention issued the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, or what became known as the Seneca Falls Declaration.

  • Its basic ideas mirrored the Declaration of Independence

    • men and women created equal

    • inalienable rights

    • charged men for injuries and tyranny as TJ had re: King George

  • Women’s rights in the 1850s called for:

    • The right of married women to control their own property

    • Right to custody of children in divorce

    • women's right to sue and testify in court

  • By the Civil War, the women’s rights movement had achieved limited success

    • Greater rights to property


  • Thus, by the Civil War women still remained largely in a society dominated by separate spheres ideology.

  • The advent and expansion of the market economy transformed women's traditional role in the household eliminating much of their productive role.

  • It replaced it with one that emphasized creating a refuge for men who had to confront the growing hostile and debilitating market society.

  • Yet, as we have seen many middle class women charged by the religious revivals of 1820s and 30s expanded their domestic field to cleanse society through various reform efforts including: temperance and abolition.

  • These new experiences not only provided them with invaluable organizational skill, but also made them confront their oppression.

  • By the 1850s, women had begun an over 100+ year effort to achieve equal rights and equality.