`Just a Housewife'

The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America
Matthews, Glenna
Date published: 
January 1989

The author shows how the nineteenth century's `cult of domesticity' had invested the home with great importance - as the centre of republican virtue, as the source of religious values and as an area of heady female responsiblities. But this emphasis meant that women were relegated to the domestic sphere, especially when Darwin's `survival of the fittest' doctrine seemed to indicate that women were physically inferior to men. Ironically, the industrialization of the home in the early twentieth century failed to improve women's lot; on the contrary, it helped lose the home its place of centrality in American cultu re and produced a terrible dilemma for women by urging them to go into the work place but offering them very little social support for doing so.