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SeparateSpheres: Woman:s Place in Nineteenth-Century America Donna A.Behnke.Religious Issues in Nineteenth Centwy Feminism. Troy,N.Y.:Whitston Publishing, 1982.299pp. Barbara M. Brenzel. Daughters of the State: A Social p01t,ait of the First Reform School for Girls in North America, ]856-1905. Cambridge, Mass. and London: MIT Press, 1983. 206 +xipp. Fave E.Dudden.Serving Women: Household Service mN111etee11th-Centwy America. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1983.344 + viii pp. JanetWilsonJames. Changing Ideas about Women mthe United States, 1776-1825. New York and London: GarlandPublishing, 1981.337 + xxix pp. Altina L. Waller.Reverend Beecher and Mrs. Tilton: Set and Classin Victorian America. Amherst, Mass.: University ofMassachusetts Press, 1982. 177+ xiiipp. Barbara Todd The idea of "separate spheres" has for the past two decades dominated writingabout woman's role in the nineteenth century. Since Barbara Welter identifiedthe notion and Kathryn Sklar defined it more precisely, 1 historians havedevoted much effort to describing the effects of the idea that Victorian womenwere assigned the responsibility for creating in the home a haven of moralityand tranquility. Most historians trace the origin of the idea to economic changes. In the firsthalf of the nineteenth century industrialization began to disrupt the secure social order. At the same time, industry began to encroach on woman'srole as equal helpmate in the subsistence household. As work movedout of the home, the wife, bereft of her productive duties, acquired a newrole as keeper of a calm and orderly "haven from the heartless world." Unsulliedby public affairs, she was responsible for maintaining the purity and spirituality of her husband and children by precept and example. No longereconomic partners, husband and wife now had separate spheres of responsibility.The higher nature of woman's duties and her moral superiority ensuredthat her separate sphere, though limited, was at least as important to societyas man's. Few now dispute that some such ideology existed, but historians have differedwidely in evaluating its effect. Some, such as Catharine Beecher's biographer,have argued that it was the basis for "domestic feminism": woman's CanadianReview of American Studies, Volume 16, Number 3, Fall 1985,329-337 330 BarbaraTodd separate role was a source of power and moral authority, while equality was a threat to that authority. Others, particularly Carol Smith Rosenberg, have explored women's relationships within their own separate world, sinceitisin that world that women can be seen and judged on their own terms. Sometimes it has appeared that even a limited separate sphere was an improvement over what had gone before. Mary Beth Norton, for instance, using evidence leftby literate women, questions whether there ever was an age of cooperative equality and argues that eighteenth-century women were far from satisfied with their lot. She concludes that a theory of a valid separate role was welcomed by early-nineteenth-century women dissatisfied with their previous subordination. 2 Still other historians, observing that feminists almost immediatly began challenging the limitations of the separate sphere, believe that most women found the idea as oppressive as anything that had gone before. The debate is far from over and, like most historiographical debates, it is fueled as much by the philosophical and political predispositions ofthe historians as by the nature of the evidence. ERA has revived "separate spheres'' and "domestic feminism" as central issues for women of the late twentieth century. Each of the five recently published books reviewed here casts more light on the causes and effects of the domestic ideal and the wayit was resisted or accepted by nineteenth-century Americans. The first of these works predates Welter's article by more than a decade. In the late 1940s, under the supervision of Arthur Schlesinger at Harvard, Janet Wilson James took up the then unusual subject of women's history, focusing upon ideas about women in the early Republic. The resulting dissertation, Changing Ideas about Women in the United States, 1776-1825, completed in 1954, has now been published in a photo-reproduction ofthe original typescript. Usingonly printed sources, James based her work on biographical evidence, surveys of women's life and work by other scholars such as Julia Spruill and Mary Benson, and on the prescriptive works for women published...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 329-337
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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