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Varieties of American Womanhood

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Alison Merkel

on 29 March 2016

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Transcript of Varieties of American Womanhood

American Womanhood

Cult of Domesticity
New Woman
(sometimes spelled couverture)
4 Key Virtues:
1837: Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College): It is the oldest (and first) of the Seven Sisters. It is also the oldest school which was established from inception (chartered in 1836) as an institution of higher education for women (teaching seminary) that is still a women's college.
1839: Georgia Female College (now Wesleyan College): It is the oldest (and the first) school which was established from inception (chartered in 1836) as a full college for women.
1855: Elmira Female College (now Elmira College): It is the oldest college still in existence which (as a women's college) granted degrees to women that were the equivalent of those given to men; the college became coeducational in 1969.
First Female Colleges
Learn More:
A legal doctrine whereby, upon marriage, a woman's legal rights were subsumed [absorbed into something else] by those of her husband. Coverture was enshrined in the common law of England and the United States throughout most of the 19th century. The idea was described in William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England in the late 18th century.
(1) way of integrating women into the new nation by combining domesticity with political & civic roles--extended women’s participation in civic culture

(2) guard common welfare--protect republic from vices (greed & corruption) that have brought down past republics

(3) women stabilizing force in rapidly moving society (this theme repeats itself)
(4) motherhood only vehicle through which to earn social recognition

(5) justifications for education to form her into “an agreeable companion for a sensible man”
Republican Woman:
raise patriotic, responsible & Christian children (instill these qualities before corrupting forces could interfere); capable mother of liberty-loving sons; self-reliant (within limits); literate & suitably educated to teach principles of liberty and representation; untempted by frivolous fashion
Powerful ideology perpetuated through print culture, religion, public and private discourses
IDEOLOGY--never complete actuality
Class- and race-based
Arose from New Middle Class, Post-Industrial Family--they did not need to be self-sufficient
Men worked producing goods and services (making money) while wives and children stayed home
The public world too rough for women, who were weak and delicate and should stay home
Ultimate goals: marriage and motherhood
Ideal of Womanhood: Piety, Purity, Submissiveness & Domesticity
"The perfection of womanhood...is the wife and mother, the center of the family, that magnet that draws man to the domestic altar, that makes him a civilized being, a social Christian...The wife is truly the light of the home" (Godey’s Lady’s Book).
Women naturally religious
Too much reading/education undermines piety
Woman’s job: raise children to be good Christians--“evangelical motherhood” religious and moral instruction of children is stressed
Keep husband on straight and narrow so that he will be effective leader in public sphere
Maintain chastity against wilder passions of menLose chastity— lose status as a true woman
Women the passive responders to husband/brothers/father
Rebel against men = rebel against God
Suppress own talents and voice to men’s
Corsets closed off lungs and pinched inner organs; large numbers of undergarments and weight of dresses limited mobility
HOME ideal place—--man’s haven from contaminants of public sphere
Home is where the heart is (sentimentality, sympathy, emotion, femaleness)
Public sphere is where head is (intellect, reason, maleness)
Housework, needlework as morally uplifting
She did more than ride bicycles … she was independent… she was educated… she was an activist… she was mature…she was a sportswoman…she was competent…she was a professional…she dared to live her life without a man!!
1880s -- 1920s
Gave priority to their careers rather than marriage & motherhood.
America wasn’t ready for professional women who were also wives and mothers. She was expected to choose one or the other.
Therefore, almost 50% of female college graduates in the late nineteenth century remained unmarried.
University in its early period of rapid growth created possibilities for women & altered women’s experiences—--broadened freedom for women, especially in giving women more open-ended sense of own capacities (no longer uniquely moral).
By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing; and is therefore called in our law-French a feme-covert; is said to be covert-baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture. Upon this principle, of a union of person in husband and wife, depend almost all the legal rights, duties, and disabilities, that either of them acquire by the marriage. I speak not at present of the rights of property, but of such as are merely personal. For this reason, a man cannot grant any thing to his wife, or enter into covenant with her: for the grant would be to suppose her separate existence; and to covenant with her, would be only to covenant with himself: and therefore it is also generally true, that all compacts made between husband and wife, when single, are voided by the intermarriage.
Blackstone Text:
A feme sole had the right to own property and make contracts in her own name.
feme sole
Under traditional English common law an adult unmarried woman was considered to have the legal status of
feme sole
, while a married woman had the status of
feme covert
A feme covert was not recognized as having legal rights and obligations distinct from those of her husband in most respects.
Instead, through marriage a woman's existence was incorporated into that of her husband, so that she had very few recognized individual rights of her own.
Husband and wife were one person as far as the law was concerned, and that person was the husband.
A married woman could not:
own property
sign legal documents or enter into a contract
obtain an education against her husband's wishes
keep a salary for herself
in certain cases, a woman did not have individual legal liability for her misdeeds, since it was legally assumed that she was acting under the orders of her husband
feme covert
(These are English spellings of medieval Anglo-Norman phrases the modern standard French spellings would be femme seule "single woman" and femme couverte, literally "covered woman").
How do societal attitudes about women and their relationships with men define the role of women in American society?
[the quality of being religious]
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