The Cult of Domesticity:
Securing the 19th Century Woman in the Home
During the Antebellum age of America, new values and ideals began to arise. These ideals were reflected in the households of middle class citizens and grouped together to create the “Cult of Domesticity.” The cult helped form the foundation of female inferiority in the male dominated society. As “slaves” to the home, women were to uphold morals that were no longer relevant in the new industrialized world. The ideas that led to this treatment of women were drawn from religion, “scientific studies”, and the Industrial Revolution. The Cult of Domesticity was created to work effortlessly with the middle class, and was also known as the “Perfect Family” (Myth). Prior to the Industrial Revolution, families were dependent on every family member to provide for the household. Men, women, and children alike, would cook, clean, and take care of the entire property (Cowan, 16). However, the Middle Class family after the Industrial Revolution consisted of a single wage earning father and a mother that stayed at home maintaining the household and the children, in a home isolated from the rest of society (Nussell, 1). It was believed at the time that a man belonged in the working world, known as the “Public Sphere”, and a woman belonged at home, known as the “Private Sphere”. The Public Sphere was immoral, full of temptation, violence, and trouble, while the Private Sphere was moral, passive, a haven where man could be protected (Lavender, 1). A man’s worth was constructed around how hard he worked and his political function, while a woman’s virtue was determined by her ability to provide a comfortable home for the family (Welter, Cult, 152). This resulted in a change as to how the household would be maintained. Cooking and cleaning would now be done by the woman, putting much time and effort into each task. The Industrial Revolution, however, produced more tools that served domesticity’s purpose, like the kitchen tools boom in the 1830’s, which created advancements like the stove and gave a sense of craft and mastery to the woman of the household (Cowan, 46). The stove, one of the many products produced, became affordable for almost every American family, because it could cook several things at once, and allowed for more varied dinners. (Cowan, 46). Decorating flourished now that women had more time on their hands. The nineteenth-century household would be cluttered with beautiful, ornate objects, yet as compared to the woman of the home, they were beautiful but useless (Lavender, 4).
In the Bible, Genesis, chapter 2, versus 22 to 25, states “The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man.” This among other statements in the Bible, directly influenced the first of four virtues women were expected to uphold, piety. It was believed that religion belonged to woman by divine right, a gift of God and nature (Welter, Cult, 152). For she was the new Eve, safeguarding herself from man’s greed in order to work with God and purge the world of sin with her love (Lavender, 1). Since woman belonged in the home, religion was a perfect fit for her domain; she could still pray and speak of Christian values without straying from the home or Church (Welter, Cult, 153). Women were also expected to teach religion to others in the home. By teaching her immoral husband of God’s great works he would be less likely to drink or gamble; this would eventually bring him to salvation (Nussell, 1). Without religion women were thought of poorly, as not being a woman at all, and in extreme cases she would be whipped (Welter, Cult, 154). Caleb Atwater, Esq. states, “Religion is exactly what a woman needs, for it gives her that dignity that best suits her dependence (Welter, Cult, 153).”
Morality was a big element of being a “true woman” in the Antebellum Age, leading into the second of four virtues, purity. To be a “true woman” she had to be sexually pure, a...
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