Gender Identity During the Gold Rush

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Over the course of America's history, the gender role for men and women has evolved. Since the beginning of time, men have played the dominant role in nearly every culture around the world, including the United States. The men during the seventeenth century were dominant figures who earned money to take care of themselves and their families. Women on the other hand, were the ones who were in the home taking care of the children, cooking, and cleaning. When the Gold Rush occurred in 1849, not only was society changing, but the roles of both men and women were rapidly changing as well. The effects of gender role determined the way that society was running. When this sudden change of gender role started to change, society started to run much differently. Traditional gender roles are beneficial to society. They benefited society in many ways including keeping stability, order and just making life easier in general. Brian Roberts book American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class Culture looks at how the gender role for men and women were evolving during this time, including women taking over the role of men back in the homestead and how the lives of the miners in California were.

When many people think of the men who were the forty-niners, many people seem to think of unmarried men who were unattached, who were rebellious, poor, and had a working class identity in society. That stereotype however, is completely untrue. Many of the miners were far from being poor. In fact, they had to have some money in order to make the journey from the East coast all the way to California. At this time, the cost of getting there was more than a year's pay for the average man. In addition, most of the miners were not single young men. In fact, most of the miners were married and were usually connected to their families and communities back in the East. Furthermore, nearly all of them were brought up and lived on the moral codes and values which was going around in the East coast. Many of the men who later became miners, were from well connected middle class families, had white-collar skilled occupations and had strong economic ties. The reason many of the men left for California was because of everything that they had heard about the gold rush. All of them believed that they would be panning for large chunks of gold which would make them rich overnight.

During this time, many people believed that gold seeking was not an activity which was for respectable men. In addition, they believed that California was not a place for those who were refined. Even before many of these miners went to California, people saw California as a place of vulgar men, immodest women, and immoral behavior. During this time, society was extremely conservative. Men were required to work at a decent and respected middle class job and be the breadwinner in the house. By the time of the gold rush, these miners appeared to be “providing models of behavior that were decidedly unethical, possible immoral, and certainly hostile to family harmony” (Roberts, pg. 47). Around this time, the market revolution began and the middle class Americans welcomed it with oversimplification. For this reason, many new middle-class followers wanted a last chance to resurrect the idea of a wider and more closely interconnected family. The home and family life provided a point of resistance to social and moral fragmentation.

The home which was dominated by women, which was completely separate from the market, was not a good place for young men to understand the “battle strategies of the marketplace” (Roberts, pg. 48). For many people, the transition from the home to the business world was one of the most difficult experiences they would have to go through. The tension between the “home and the outside world of business was everywhere apparent in mid-nineteenth-century American bourgeois culture” (Roberts, pg. 49). Miners who were raised by their mothers to be good sons in the...
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