Women didn't get much education in the early days beyond what they would need to run a home. Male physicians said that too much learning could injure the female brain. By 1850, around 20 percent of all women had worked outside the home by the time they were married. After they married, women didn't work for wages; they were locked inside the household. Women seemed to be trapped on a pedestal of domesticity: They were supposed to be more morally refined than men but were limited to being the keepers of families. They got some input on social responsibility with the cult of domesticity (1850), which held that, by being virtuous, women could change the world through their families.

Gaining control of their own lives

Of little breakthroughs is freedom made. Under the belief in republican motherhood (1780) at the time of the Revolution (see Chapter 9), women were valued as teachers of children, especially the sons who were needed for the new democracy. With the cult of domesticity, however, women began to use their power as queens of the household to make decisions about things that mattered outside the family as well. They gained more power to plan children and choose their own mates; families arranged fewer marriages.


Question: What were the positive benefits of the cult of domesticity for women?

Answer: American women gained power from the 1700s to 1860 as they moved from republican motherhood to the cult of domesticity. Changes in women's rights over this time included their own choice of husbands, activism outside the home, and more control over childbearing.

As the 1800s progressed, more women worked in factories, and they participated in early union activities. As public education spread in the 1840s, the hitherto male profession of teaching began to admit some females. Women could also work as cooks or maids. About one Northern family in ten was rich enough to pay a domestic servant to help with the housework.

Women had only half as many children during the 1800s as during the 1700s; family planning was beginning to take hold. Couples used timing and early barrier methods to keep from getting pregnant. These methods had been passed down for hundreds of years; in the mid-1800s, women just got more assertive about using them. With fewer children, mothers could spend more time rearing their kids. The idea of helping children develop began to take hold; parents no longer just survived the kids until they could be sent out into the fields.

Women's rights

As women got some power, they wanted more. Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony were Quakers who stood up for women's rights. Mott fought for women and abolition from the 1820s until after the Civil War, and Anthony carried the movement into the 1900s. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a mother of seven who insisted, with the full support of her husband, on leaving the word obey out of her marriage ceremony. Stanton and Mott were leaders of the groundbreaking Seneca Falls Convention (1848), which proclaimed the rights of women. Seneca Falls was the first meeting of women to adopt a program designed to lead to votes for women. The Convention's Declaration of Sentiments (1848) echoed the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

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