Image: "The Sphere of Woman," Godey's Lady's Book, March 1850
The concept of “separate spheres” for men and women was pervasive, especially among middle-to-upper-class people. Of course, women in the lower classes and among non-European and immigrant groups worked to feed, house, and clothe their families and no one seemed to find it shocking because, well … class and race.
The world of Civil War America was not as heavily industrialized or urbanized as the last decades the nineteenth century, yet it still is part of the United States’ Industrial Revolution. Up until the early nineteenth century the United States and its colonial predecessors had been largely rural and agrarian. We had towns and cities, of course, but these were nothing like the cities we know today. Today’s New York City with its world of sky scrapers, wall-to-wall traffic and people, and business and busyness would have blown even Eli’s mind.
The emerging Industrial Revolution engendered industrialization and urbanization. And with these things came enormous cultural changes. A major example is how time was perceived. In earlier eras time was measured by the seasons and by activities that needed to be done during the day and over the year. With the creation and growth of factories, time became more regimented. People no longer worked until the job was done but according to schedule, which usually was 10-12 hours a day, six days a week.
Another change occurred in the home, particularly among the upper- to middle-classes. Men left the home and went off to the rough and tumble “world of work.” Meanwhile, women were expected to remain in the home and tend to household chores and raising children. As a result, perceptions of men and women’s natures also shifted. Men were seen as coarse, amoral at best, and immoral at worst, while women were perceived to be pure and moral. (And yet they were denied the right to vote and make "moral" decisions for the nation. Go figure.)
When I was an adjunct professor, I frequently stunned my students frequently by giving them the laundry list of things women couldn’t do in the nineteenth century: woman could not vote in national elections and frequently could not vote in state or local elections; she could not hold public office; once a woman was married she became a femme covert (a “covered woman,” who was absorbed into her husband’s household); marriage also might mean that a woman no longer was permitted to own property or have a right to any income she earned, although there were exceptions, as in the case of women in New Jersey); she could not deliver a speech to a group of men or to a mixed group of men and women; she could not lead or vote in most organizations, including the abolition movement, although she could lead and vote in groups comprised only of women; and a woman could not be a clergy person, nor could she preach or lead a church, although she could “exhort” (encourage). A lower-class woman, however, could work in a factory; slave women and the wives of farmers could work in the fields and slave-owner's houses and businesses; and the wife of a shopkeeper could work with her husband. Most other professions and jobs, though, were closed to women. Despite this, some managed to break through. Exceptions also existed for women who moved westward. In frontier areas women frequently had greater opportunity to break the rules and flex their creativity, skills, and talents.
Those last two sentences will have a direct bearing upon Frankie, Maggie's youngest daughter with John Blaine. She feels called to ministry, but women were not permitted to do this in the Methodist Episcopal Church. At the end of Seeing the Elephant, and in The Great Central Fair, and soon in The Good Community, a discussion of Frankie and Patrick moving west after their marriage opens up. Patrick's reasons for moving west are that, as a young doctor, he would have more opportunities. Frankie would have the same opportunity in her quest to make her call to preach and minister a reality.
Will Frankie make the move? Will she become and "outlaw" pastor (a pastor not affiliated with any denomination)? We shall see.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder