A Woman’s Place is in the Home: The 19th Century Separate Spheres

Joined
Mar 19, 2019
In my opinion, the idea that women traditionally got to stay home and let the man bring home the money is a myth.

Both my husband and myself came from a line of women who HAD to work in unglamorous jobs (pre- 2nd wave feminism) due to early widowhood, unemployment of the husband, extenuating family circumstances, etc.

I read about a lot of women who HAD to work - in the nineteenth century - for the same reasons. (And not just "glamorous" jobs. I read about women who HAD to work in housekeeping, childcare, food preparation, factory work, hospitality, etc. This wasn't just something that they did in order to be "liberated.")

For instance, I'm a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Little House on the Prairie books kind of put a positive spin on the family's lean years in the 1870's / 1880's, but even in the books, the family depended on the income that she brought in as a teenager. The books don't even mention the year that Pa Ingalls managed a boardinghouse. (Wilder wrote that "adventure" out of her book series.) The entire Ingalls family had to work in food preparation and housekeeping at that boardinghouse in order to pay for their own room and board.

Even after she married Almonzo Wilder, her husband's farm experienced crop failures and she had to contribute to bringing in an income.

This is just my opinion, and I used LIW as an example in order to keep it on the subject of the 19th century.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Good thread. But the US Civil War opened up nursing to women. The teaching profession may also have opened up, as a way for a woman to get out of New England and into a western community where she would have more male options. But the Civil War also broke down sexual limitations. By 1870 the census commissioner could note that the custom of "boarding" was spreading and causing people to postpone having a family.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
At the high status end, there was Elizabeth Blair Lee, a friend of Mary Lincoln's and tightly associated with her birth family, and the naval officer Samuel Lee.
Ellen Sherman, born a member of the Ewing family, was a very influential letter writer, and a devote Catholic.
Julia Grant was an unapologetic advocate of women's suffrage and a friend of the suffragists.
But it was Mary Ann Bickerdyke and Clara Barton that really stepped out of the private sphere and into the public sphere, and the changes they wrought were permanent.
 
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