From the beginning of time, there has always been a distinction between men and women. Generally, societies were patriarchal; this was the same for American society. However, the social relationship between men and women began to change in the 19th century. Public and private worlds began to grow more separate, and the "Cult of Domesticity"developed.

Who Was Effected the Most?


How Was Life For Women?
  • No legal rights
  • Subordinate to their husband
  • Could not Obtain Divorces
-If women were divorced because of the husband’s wishes, they generally lost custody of their children

  • Could legally be beaten by their husbands in most states
-The law did not recognize rape in a marriage(all sexual acts were "permitted")
-Not being married was frowned upon socially, however getting married subjected women to the absolute demands and desires of their husbands.

  • Had very little access to business or politics
  • Could not speak in public before an audience of both sexes
  • Were encouraged to get an elementary school level education, but discouraged/barred from higher education
-Oberlin College, in Ohio, was the first school to accept women (1837). They were critisized for their coeducational system, but were confident in the positives that each sex could learn from each other in "mind and mannor."
-Coeducation remained extremely rare until long after the Civil War.

-Mount Holyoke, founded in Massachusetts by Mary Lyon in 1837 was an example of a womens college



The New Role of Women

Society still believe that women were not “fit” for public work life, however, women’s role in the home began to be recognized as important. The men remained the sole financial provider for the family.

Where Does This Leave Women?
Women were thought of to be the more moral sex. They had better values and virtues, and were therefore vital to the upbringing of children in the homes. Nineteenth century feminists agreed and helped women create their own separate "sphere" or society of their own. Women began to form their own social networks and friendships increased between women. They began writing literature such as; romantic novels and women’s magazines such as Godley's Lady's Book.

external image godneys.jpg
By the 1840s, the ideology of domesticity was extremely strong. Most married women wouldn’t even think of being employed in factorys or mills and no one would hire them. Unmarried women who still needed income worked as teachers or nurses or other professions that required the same qualities that made women important at home.

People also began to associate work with something having to be done by the lower classes. Upper and middle class women believed that lower class women were too poor to stay home and preserve the "Domestic Values" of society. It was acceptable for lower class women to work and produce income for themselves.


A picture from the first well known women's magazine-Godey's Lady's Book

To Sum It All Up
The Cult of Domesticity was a term coined by scholars the benifited mainly middle class women of the time.
Timeline of major women's rights movements through out the world. Women spent most of their time in the home, and enjoyed the power they gained in the 1840's nd 1850's. Their was no need for women to work, as many were married and their husbands were the financial provider. They were respected in their home and took their homemaker job very seriously; it was not until the Civil War that women began to dominate jobs as teachers and nurses.