Marriage and Women: Women in the early nineteenth century cared for men. Yet, in order to give this care, women depended on the economic support of men. 

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Women and Issues of a Woman

Marriage and Women From 19th Century On...
Marriage and Women: A Series

By Lori Anderson

Women and Marriage:  Women began to romanticize love and nurturing as female qualities that compensated for men's political powers and economic resources.

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19th Century

By the nineteenth century people generally met their personal needs in the family.

Women in the early nineteenth century cared for men. Yet, in order to give this care, women depended on the economic support of men. Women had to be dependent because everyone depended on them (the women) for nurturing and care. Men and women then, though totally separate with separate roles, were incomplete without each other.

Women began to romanticize love and nurturing as female qualities that compensated for men's political powers and economic resources.

Men began to romanticize women as freely giving these nurturing services and emotions rather than exchanging these "gifts" for protection, food, and shelter of the woman and her children.

Male/female relationships began to be characterized by intensive courtships, followed by marriage.

After marriage, men could go back to work, leaving the family to women. But they both had misgivings about the roles they had romanticized.

Women solved their misgivings by becoming the pillars of virtue and aspiring to be perfect wives and mothers.

Men quieted their misgivings by only truly revering the altruism of "mother" after the courtship period ended.

The gender roles were now solved in the eyes of capitalism.

For the Family

However, capitalism had two other problems to overcome. It needed increased production to grow and the state needed protection, as in the case of war!

1. How could these independent, autonomous men be convinced to fight wars? What would make them risk their lives to protect the state?

In short, men had to be convinced they were defending private interests, private obligations, and most of all,  defending their dependents. They were inspired to don their battle gear only to protect hearth, home, women, and children.

2. Increased production was necessary for capitalism to flourish. Men would only work themselves to death for their family.

Women played a role here, too. In this capitalistic Society, mothers taught their male children not to trust anyone but their immediate family. This ensured the concept of aggressive competition and that all-powerful male compulsion to "win."

"Doing it for my family" came to justify almost any kind of aggressive, unethical business behavior with strangers plus the incentive to work relentlessly toward greater prosperity for the family.

"Doing it for my family" thus produced the perfect capitalistic male and the perfect supporting cast "his women and children."

As an American writer told men in 1840, "If you are in business, get married, for the married man has his mind fixed on his business and his family, and is more likely of success."


Although definitions of proper womanhood shifted from the nineteenth century to the 1960s, traditional assumptions about woman's place did consistently involve some form of domestic obligations.

Sheila Rothman in her book Woman's Proper Place, A History of Changing Ideals and Practices, 1870 to the Present writes that even within the framework of domestic obligations, important variations occurred over this time.

She says, "In the 1880s, child rearing manuals gave primacy to notions of maternal instincts and the innate and all-beneficial effects of motherly affection. By the 1920s, the literature emphasized the need for parental insights and reflected an acute suspicion of motherly love."


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Regardless of what the role was, all roles centered around the domestic role of women in  marriage and family life. 


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