Republican Motherhood and the Cult of Domesticity in America

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The United States of America had gained a reputation for equality and social democracy. Religious tolerance, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press were rights that Americans hailed as revolutionary. Indeed, compared to the Old World Europe economic opportunity and social mobility were in great supply in the United States. However, an entire section of the population was excluded from these promises of social and economic improvement ̶ women. After the American Revolution, “republican motherhood,” the idea that women were responsible for guarding the nation’s values and passing them on to the country’s youth, had taken hold in American society. The “cult of domesticity” developed to relegate women to their specific sphere of influence, in the home. While “republican motherhood” and the “cult of domesticity” were embraced by most people as the ideal of American womanhood, these goals were not achievable by all women. Lower class women and blacks were unable to achieve the objectives of “republican motherhood” and the “cult of domesticity” because of economic and social repression. However, these same ideals handicapped the efforts of educated, middle and upper class women to gain social, economic, and political equality. Poor women worked endlessly in factories while the institution of slavery in the South often separated women from their families. Reformers such as Margaret Fuller were unable to attain the social and economic equality they desired for their sex because of stigmas created by “republican motherhood” and the “cult of domesticity.”

The first Great Awakening and other religious movements often gave women a greater sense of equality within the church. However, because women were some of the most faithful and dutiful of the religious movements, they were often regarded as morally superior to men. This moral supremacy led to society’s view that women were responsible for safeguarding the country’s values. However, at the same time, Old World...
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