Early stereoscopic image entitled, "The New Woman, Wash Day " mocks reversal of the separate spheres.
The New Woman.—Wash Day.” American Stereoscopic Company, 1901, stereograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Many experts of the time wrote about how these separate spheres were naturally rooted in each gender. Women who sought roles or visibility in the public sphere often found themselves looked down upon and identified as strange or unnatural. They posed an unwelcome challenge to cultural assumptions.
Of course women were legally considered dependents until marriage and under coverture after marriage. This left them with no separate identity and few or no personal rights. This status was in line with the strongly held belief that a woman's place was in the home and a man's place was in the public world.
Several books have been written about 19th century gender roles. Many show how women within their sphere wielded considerable power and influence. They created a women's culture. Yet numerous others demonstrate how women were at a disadvantage socially, educationally, politically, economically and even medically.
We mustn’t forget that the 19th century also brought us an idea that was later termed social feminism. Reformers relied on the separate spheres ideology to justify their public reform efforts.
How do you think the Civil War affected the concept of separate spheres? Do you think this ideology continues to influence thinking even today?
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