Just a Housewife

Just a Housewife : Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America, 1830-1963

3.83 (37 ratings by Goodreads)
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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 culture 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.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 298 pages
  • 144.78 x 215.9 x 33.02mm | 589.67g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195038592
  • 9780195038590

Review Text

For many years a suburban housewife and, more recently, an academic (Oklahoma State), Matthews attempts to explain the reasons for the decline of the status of the American housewife from what was publicly (and sentimentally) perceived as a virtual household goddess in the mid-19th century to a considerably lower state today. Using contemporary published sources, Matthews documents how mid-19th-century "domestic novels" glorified the housewife, while sages such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Ward Beecher waxed eloquent on the importance of the domestic sphere. It emerges that the housewife's role was conceived not only as the administrator of a household, but also as a moral example for, and teacher of, the coming generation. The 19th-century housewife furthermore brought numerous skills to her job - kitchen gardening, food preservation, bread-baking, clothes-making, and so on. Matthews attributes the industrial revolution - with its prepared goods and the advertising of same - to the weakening of the home as a central institution. She also pillories the home economics movement (which, she says, scorned "menial tasks" and promoted commercially prepared goods) as an "unwitting" force for the further erosion of the homemaker's prestige. (While lamenting the loss of housewifery crafts, Matthews virtually ignores a basic cause of the weakening of the home as an institution: namely that the husbands - the farmers, craftsmen, even the professionals for whom home or homestead was the economic center - were increasingly drawn into factories, offices, etc. This left home-based women with little demonstrable economic function.) As Matthews points out, the modern women's movement has emphasized competition for male power, and only recently has recognized the central importance of the home as an institution. Many good ingredients, but generally half-baked. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Glenna Matthews

About the Author: Glenna Matthews lives in Berkeley, California, and has recently taught at the campuses of the University of California at Berkeley and Davis.show more

Rating details

37 ratings
3.83 out of 5 stars
5 32% (12)
4 27% (10)
3 32% (12)
2 8% (3)
1 0% (0)
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