Us Family Structure: Colonial Essay, Research Paper
US Family Structure: Colonial to Domestic Structure
The ideals of an American household from the late 18th century to the late 19th century shifts from a colonial to a domestic family. This is partially due to the change in economic and social conditions. European immigrants and middle-class white families conform to the new ideal, while other groups, such as the Native Americans, Mexicans, and African Americans, choose to live in alternative family systems. The dominant class also outwardly expresses their opinions towards these nonconforming groups. The ability of a group to assimilate to the domestic ideal is largely based on the economic and social status of the group.
The dominant family system of the late 18th century consists of colonial family ideology. In the late 1700 s the primary concept of a family is that of an organic and productive unit in which the father is the head with everyone having a significant and respected role. The perception of colonial family does not include intimate and emotional relationships amongst family members; rather the family is treated as more of a task-oriented functional system responsible for itself as a whole. Sometimes the family is even called its own little commonwealth (Morantz-Sanchez). The family is hierarchical with the husband as the head of the family and the woman being subordinate. However, the colonial man must govern his wife carefully and properly; the ideal family conditions include married couples are chase to one another. Professor Ulrich, who studied this period by looking at court depositions, proclaims the woman as a deputy husband. This notion, along with the idea that each family member participates in task-oriented work signifies that while there may be a hierarchy all roles are respected. Furthermore, children, who are considered the responsibility of the family, have a short childhood ending at about the age of seven where they are then integrated into appropriate task-oriented roles. The family is a significant foundation of the late 18th century lifestyle; Historian and Professor John Demose believes families that went bad were a threat to the social community.
There are a number of material conditions of family life that reflect the ideal American family of the 1790 s. The colonial home is not only the emotional center of a family but also serves as a workplace, hospital, school, vocational training institute, old age home, and a place of worship. Small, one-room houses make it difficult to have private intimacy (Bloch). Families also require the support of children; boys help with fieldwork and girls with taking care of younger siblings. Colonial families average 6 to 8 kids, with the wife giving birth almost every other year until menopause. These conditions and ideals were dominant in the late 18th century, but with the arrival of new economic and social circumstances the concept of the ideal American family was transformed.
Industrialization results in a direct effect on the roles and material conditions of individual family members. This economic change has a drastic impact on women. Though women still stay at home, their previous manufacturing household tasks decline as result of the market economy; families do not need to produce cloth, butter, timber and other items that could be supplied for by the new economy. As the other responsibilities diminish, the role of the wife gradually becomes synonymous with child raising and child care. The man, who now entered the industrialized workplace, becomes associated with time-disciplined work in the public sphere versus the woman who is task-oriented in the private sphere . A new definition of work arises as that which is waged ; unfortunately, this implies that a woman s tasks do not qualify as work.
Along with the economic changes, surges in the religious atmosphere also appear. The 19th century experiences an awakening of evangelical religions (Quakerism, Baptist, Methodist) encouraging more intense, personal, up-close relationships. Also, Ruth Bloch mentions that with the Enlightenment many writers came to portray the newborn baby s mind as infinitely impressionable . This leads to the notion that the mother, who is assumed to know more about raising a child, must mold their children into good citizens. This changes the responsibility of the children to the mother and creates the ideology that women are more moral and more nurturing. The families community ties weaken, there is an increase in value for personal achievement, and American character becomes more future looking . The combination of economic and social conditions effectively transform the colonial family ideology into a domestic family ideology of separate spheres where the woman emerging as the guardian of the private sphere, which includes the family, home, morality, and religious values, and the man representing the public sphere of the workplace and bread-winner mentality (Morantz-Sanchez).
While the already present white middle-class families assimilate to the domestic ideology, many European immigrant family groups attempted to conform; often the attempt to assimilate involves controversy and struggle within groups. For instance, much of the Jewish community, particularly that in New York City, experienced a disintegration of old-world culture during the process of Americanization. The movie Hester Street takes place in 1896 and emphasizes the sharp distinction between an Americanized husband, Jake, and his old-world Jewish wife, Gitl. Gitl s struggle to conform to please her husband symbolizes an attempt to live by domestic ideology that is experienced by a number of people associated with this group of immigrants. Selma Berrol s article about Julia Richman, who attemptes to teach and help newly immigrated Jews and turn them in to Americans, serves as further evidence of attempted assimilation. This article also emphasizes that learning to live by the American domestic ideal does not come easy and that immigrants feel the pressure of forced Americanization.
Other European immigrants also tried to live by the ideal American family of the late 19th century, but some immigrants did not assimilate easily; the Irish are one of these groups. In Europe, the Irish were profoundly impoverish and oppressed. Initially the Irish become members of the working class of industrialization in the North. The working class family has a low economic status, which makes it difficult to live by domestic family ideology; often children would work in the streets to supplement the family income (Stansell). The Irish also struggle because they where mostly Catholic and the Protestant America, which is partially responsible for the transformation of family ideology, express sentiments of anti-Catholicism. However, The Irish create Catholic schools to avoid the implantation of Protestant views at public schools. The Irish are profoundly present oriented (Morantz-Sanchez) which differed from domestic ideology. Despite these apparent differences between the family systems, assimilation and accommodation does occur as Irish move up in economic status by claiming their whiteness (i.e. their superiority to non-whites) and enter the realm of city politics. The Irish are unique because they represent both America s tolerance of European immigrants, as well as the significance of economic status of a group and the ability to conform the domestic ideology.
Some groups of families are deemed worthy of assimilation, but Native American, African American, and Mexican families are left out. Native Americans attempted to assimilate, but were restricted from integrating are white families.
Relinquishing ancient beliefs and customs, the [Native American] leaders sought to make their people culturally indistinguishable from their white neighbors in the hope that through assimilation they could retain their homeland racism proved to powerful the federal government extinguished the Indians title and ejected them from the charted boundaries of the states. (Perdue)
This demonstrates how the ability to conform is also limited by social status. In the 19th century Native Americans are not socially accepted, and are not given the opportunity to assimilate despite obvious attempts to accommodate domestic family ideology. Native Americans attempt to change ideology by developing a European division of labor, restricting women from political affairs, and altering sex-roles (Morantz-Sanchez). After removal the Quakers respond energetically to the Indians request for help and education, where domestic ideals were taught through a variety of classes (Perdue). While Native Americans may have attempt to live by the domestic family ideology, social discrimination subjects them to the notion that they were unworthy of assimilation.
The Mexican family is able to maintain its family ideology during the 19th century without assimilation. Mexican families often follow circular migration patterns, which makes it difficult to be effected by Americanization. Furthermore, Mexican immigration lead families to areas like Los Angeles where extended Mexican communities exist, which allows for Mexican family ideology to be practiced. Traditional Mexican views embraced male dominance and the importance of home and family. Americanization programs fail because Mexican immigrants never fully committed themselves (Sanchez). Along with no desire to assimilate, Mexican families would have trouble economically stabilizing a domestic family. Sanchez emphasizes this by pointing out that Mexican Women could not hope to develop allegiances to the United States when the economic condition of their families forced them to migrate consistently in search of an economic livelihood.
Probably the most notably discriminated family in American history is the African American family. They are seemingly not allowed to conform and at the same time deemed inferior for not conforming. As a result of slavery and sharecropping, black women are forced to work traditionally men s jobs. The notion of fictive kin, in which there is an emergence of strong kin ties (sometimes beyond blood ties), is an evident aspect of African American family ideology. A large majority of the time the fathers are moved from their families by their masters orders, which results in a stronger mother-child bond. And their central feature, beyond patriarchy, beyond matriarchy, beyond egalitarianism, was their matrifocality. African-American families were focused around the women (Billingsley). This reflects alternative family system developed out of necessity.
The dominant classes of the late 19th century look down on nonconformity of social norms. Native Americans are considered uncivilized (Perdue). Women in the working class who are forced to let kids into street to work are viewed as immoral and uncaring (Stansell). Mexicans are thought of as dirty and dangerous (Sanchez). African Americans suffer the brunt of severe racism and labels of inferiority. The dominant classes attempt to justify themselves with motivated, inaccurate, scientific (biological) rational for why some groups could not conform to social norms (Morantz-Sanchez).
Members of non-standard family groups most likely felt frustrated. Mr. Bernstein from Hester Street who feels old culture is being lost through Americanization proclaimed A Pox on Columbus, emphasizing his frustration with his surrounding environment. In more severe situations, African Americans may have feared their surrounding social order. Native Americans may feel tricked and angered. Overall, these groups probably wished that whatever economic or social situation that restricted their abilities and options were removed. Maybe if these restrictions were removed these groups would conform to the social norms.
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