Domecticity In America Essay, Research Paper
Domesticity in 19th Century
White Middle Class America
The nineteenth century marked a turning point for women in the United States. As men took work outside of the home women were left to cultivate a place that could serve as a haven from the harsh outside world. This change created a domestic sphere ru
d by women; it paramounted from simple household organization to matters involving moral and religious responsibility, health, education, and social duty. Women found power in their new role; they found equality with their male counterparts without com
ting against them.
The industrial revolution changed the way Americans worked. Men pursued jobs outside of the home. They performed hard labor such as; mining, construction, factory work, and various civil appointments. Most of the day was spent away from the comforts
f a home. This shift transformed the home into a haven from the demands of the outside world. The home set the mood for the dynamics of the family. It served as an influence upon it’s members and was a reflection of the harmony that existed between t
m. Women found themselves with the responsibility of making the home into a “glorious temple” (Sklar 151) where her family could thrive.
A home was the symbol which defined a family. The cleanliness, decor and mood that a home displayed told the economic and religious status of a family. Middle class women did not have servants and most did not have any outside help; leaving them to m
age the household alone. This could be and overwhelming task in an era without the technological advancements of today.
The idea of the home having such a profound impact on the family brought about a movement towards housing reform. An abundance of material was written including; “A Treatise on Domestic Economy” by Catherine Beecher, “The American Frugal Housewife” by
ydia Marie Childs, and “Household Economics” by Helen Cambell (Sklar 166). These manuals approached everything from child care to building a house. They began to bridge the space between what was expected of women and the resources that were available
o carry out those expectations.
Catherine’s book was unique in that it associated psychology with all aspects of domesticity (Sklar 152). Catherine was able to insert her own strong opinions about the superiority of the domestic sphere, while still providing a detailed instruction o
how to carry out household tasks.
For many women the manuals written by Catherine Beecher and the authors of her time were life saving. Lack of adequate information about domestic responsibilities could overwhelm a young wife and mother, causing them to give up and become depressed (S
ar 153). This happened to Catherine’s own mother who was thrust into domestic isolation with little contact with family and friends (Sklar 6). These manuals gave an alternative to oral instruction. Catherine’s book specifically gave an added explanat
n of how important the woman’s role was; allowing women to take pride in their sphere giving them a sense of their own necessity in the world.
Self esteem plays a major role in the changes brought about in the nineteenth century. White middle class women were considered subordinate to men out of necessity for the greater good of society. Their opinions, although valued, were sacrificed to p
mote and strengthen the interests of their husbands. Many women had shallow ambitions and did not realize the power of their natural attributes. Catherine Beecher begins to address the use of this power in the late 1820’s (Sklar 96). She does not en
urage women to take an equal place in civil and political concerns, but to focus on their own sphere and realize the power held within. Catherine suggests that the nation is in need of a savior from moral decline and that women are the perfect moral sa
ors (Sklar 98). She argues that women are endowed with moral energy and that their influence upon their children and spouses are powerful enough to instill moral values.
Moral reform was the first social movement in the United States to consist primarily of women. Moral reform attracted the support of thousands of women from New England to the Old Northwest. This reform distinguished itself from other movements by th
extent to which women ran it. This was nothing new in churches, but moral reform was the first reform movement to become almost exclusively the cause of women. Not only was it comprised of women and led by women; it offered many mainstream, middle cla
women their first opportunity to venture into the public arena and agitate for social change on behalf of women.
The fundamental forces which promoted the growth of the moral reform were: the separation of church and state, which greatly empowered the female population; the emergence of new middle-class norms of gender identity; and a dramatic decline in both fer
lity rates and child death rates. These social changes enabled women to have a foothold in society and their families like they never had before.
By the middle 1800’s most churches were no longer funded by the state and now relied on contributions from their congregations rather than taxation. This development increased the power of the people, and since women predominated, the power of women i
reased. Many ministers began to call upon women to exercise various forms of social power, such as choosing and supporting clergymen and orchestrating religious events.
New middle-class norms began to emerge as the numbers and influence of middle-class people increased throughout American society. As women developed a loyalty to larger middle class goals; such as an individualistic work ethic and the promotion of se
discipline, they began to exercise significant new forms of power, particularly in the home.
The nineteenth century displayed the greatest decline in birthrates in American history. Couples began to take control of their futures by controlling the amount of children that they had. This, coupled with the lower child death rates, allowed paren
to put a more personal energy in the upbringing of their children. Parents were not as worried about loosing children and allowed themselves to form deeper psychological relationships with them. Families were smaller and parents no longer had to spre
out their attention and affecions; each child could be nurtured in a more personal way.
In the later 1800’s the idea of original sin was being rejected in most American religious circles (Sklar 261). The notion that children are born innocent and without sin was widely accepted. The task at hand was not longer the eradication of their
n, but the preservation of their innocence (Sklar 261). This was not easy to do without sheltering them from the outside world. Parents embraced the idea of educating children and instilling moral values with the expectation of them being challenged i
the real world. The idea was that one can only resist evil if he is never exposed to it (Sklar 261).
Sons were taught how to behave in polite society. They were consistently discouraged from gambling, drinking, profanity and debt. Mother’s were able to use their affections and fragile nature to form a psychological pact with their sons. Men made pa
s with their mothers either outright or silently that they would not be a disappointment to their family. Similar to a wedding band, men often they carried objects given to them by their mothers as a reminder of their vows. They knew that society view
their behavior as a direct reflection of their mother’s influence.
Daughters on the other hand were raised to raise sons. They were educated for the purpose of being a marketable wife. The more educated a woman was the more she had to offer her son. Catherine Beecher said in her Treatise on Domestic Economy: “Let t
women of a country be made virtuous and intelligent, and the men will certainly be the same. The proper education of a man decides the welfare of an individual; but educate a women, and the interests of a whole family are secured” (Sklar 204).
Statements like that made by Catherine Beecher lifted women to new heights in regard to self esteem. Women began to take on other types of reform which addressed self improvement and work ethic. Education as a profession for women and health reform w
e two of these that needed much attention.
As women became more educated they began to aspire towards a need to be a contributing part of society on a more professional leval. Education was a place where women could find a niche. Catherine Beecher became a teacher because it was the closest t
ng to a minister that she could become. She opened schools to educate women and her main goal was to train them to become teachers. Teaching as a profession became an alternative for women who did not want to marry. Catherine saw teaching as the wome
s true profession. She regarded it as a glorification of women’s natural talents (Sklar 98). Catherine went on in later years to advocate for this sub culture. She says that a self sufficient woman can adopt children and therefore institute a family
tate by becoming herself the head of the household (Sklar 167).
Heath problems for women in the nineteenth century were unspeakable. They suffered everything from mental illness to gynecological atrocities. Similar to moral reform it relied on individual advocates to spread its ideas. The advice most often circu
ted was on self-improvement through diet and sexual restraint, exercise, and sensible dress. Before now women did not have an awareness of how their body worked and it was often abused through eating habits and dress. Reformers advocated the eliminati
of tight lacing in female dress; counseled mothers to provide their children with a healthy diet, fresh air, and wholesome activities.
Many women took to the water cure; a place where they could cure their physical ailments along with their psychological ones. Women went to these spa like places sometimes for months at a time. During their stay they were doused with the healing pow
s of hydopathy in many ways. They were wrapped in wet towels, took steam treatments, and were required to drink gallons of water (Sklar 185). The water cure also served as a place were women could talk freely about thier health problems and educate ea
Domesticity for the white middle class woman during the nineteenth century reform opened many doors for women. The success of moral reform is not as important as it’s accomplishment of tapping into the energies of women in the emerging middle class.
men were able to finally articulate heir frustration and aspirations. The achievements of this time was a precedent for other movements and for women’s continued activism following generations.