Cult of Domesticity

Background: Nineteenth-century, middle-class American women saw their behavior regulated by a social system known today as the cult of domesticity, which was designed to limit their sphere of influence to home and family. Yet within this space, they developed networks and modes of expression that allowed them to speak out on the major moral questions facing the nation. Objective: This is an exercise in skills critical to the historian: analyzing and organizing information. You will read and analyze several primary source documents and then answer the question provided. Directions:. 1. For this assignment you will read Cult of Domesticity, created by America in Class from the National Humanities Center. It can be found online at and it is also attached. The close reading questions that appear on the handout and the graphic organizer chart, will help students to analyze the document. 2. Write a two to three paragraph essay that compares and contrasts the viewpoints of the four authors on the subject of the Cult of Domesticity. How, for example, do the authors treat the four principles of the Cult of Domesticity – piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity – either positively or negatively. Your essay should consider whether the Cult of Domesticity oppresses women (and if so, how) or whether it can it be seen as empowering women (if so, how)? Refer to examples from each of the primary source documents in your essay. Upload your essay to the Assignment link. Grading: This assignment will be graded using the Assignment Rubric. Information about the Cult of Domesticity In each of the passages presented, at least two of the four principles of the cult of domesticity (piety, purity, submissiveness, domesticity) are illustrated, either positively or negatively, and these illustrations can be compared and contrasted. While the four passages have other features in common, they also voice distinctive, even opposing views. One theme to note is the emphasis on the kinds of trade-off that take place within this cult, meaning that women might very well willingly choose to accept the “rule” of wise husbands and political leaders in return for security, material comfort, and protection. “How Husbands May Rule” and “Peculiar Responsibilities of American Women” stress what women gain by acquiescing to men’s authority. The stories of Fanny Fern and Harriet Beecher Stowe demonstrate differences in how men and women use language and also some interesting patterns in how they shift ground in dialogue with one another. Harriet Jacobs offers a particularly astute use of pious, “domestic” language operating in stark contrast to other statements where she adopts a much more strident emphasis that can be compared to Mrs. Bird’s shifts in tone.

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