Wednesday, May 15, 2013
On the Ideology of "True Womanhood"
On the Ideology of "True Womanhood": In 1966, historian Barbara Welter published an article in American Quarterly titled "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820 - 1860." The word "cult" seemed too strong and incongruous at times, so I have replaced it with the term "ideology." Nevertheless, Welter argued that a majority of middle-to-upper class (white) women in nineteenth-century America (Britain and Canada) had agreed on what it meant to be a "true woman." To a certain extent, much of this ideology overlapped with the moral values emanating from the British Empire under Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Not surprisingly, "true womanhood" was pervasive in New England, where a large portion of white (Anglo-Saxon) Protestant women lived. Their values included piety, sexual restraint, proper etiquette, proper dress, spousal submission, and domestic (household) work. Of course, modernism developed mostly as a response to these "Victorian values." But what made "true womanhood" especially prevalent was the way it influenced basic elements of society such as architecture, art, fashion, and religion. For example, many upper-class houses at the time were built to accommodate the "separate spheres" of men and women, as men had their gun rooms and women had their sewing rooms. Even the purpose of the "parlor" changed under "true womanhood," as it became the house's primary space where well-to-do women greeted their male suitors.