Victorian America: Women Control Happiness At Home

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Victorian America: Women Control Happiness At Home

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“Women control happiness at home.” So stated The Intelligencer of Anderson, South Carolina on March 23, 1876.

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That’s a lot of pressure. Yet no other five-word sentence could better define Victorian America’s view of womanhood.

Kristin Holt | Who Makes the Best Victorian Wives? Related to Victorian America: Women Control Happiness at Home

Q:  Who Makes the Best (Victorian) Wives?

A:  Women who (can and will) control happiness at home.

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Talk about a significant life work and daily sacrifice.

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America: Women Control Happiness At Home. Published in The Intelligencer of Anderson, South Carolina on march 23, 1876.

“Women Control Happiness at Home.” Published in The Intelligencer of Anderson, South Carolina, on March 23, 1876.

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Evidenced by the perspective of this newspaper article writer, women either make or break the happiness in a home.

Viewed through today’s lens, that responsibility, whether the home is happy or a nightmare, seems unfairly assigned to the wife. Today, most agree that everyone in the home contributes to the mood. One grumpy, irritable, ill-behaved man can douse all the joy and light in a home. Likewise with one cranky woman (or child).

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America: Women Control Happiness at Home (1876). Vintage illustration of an angry man shaking a fist at a poor woman and thin, poorly dressed children. Image courtesy of Spartacus Educational.

Vintage illustration (1911) of an angry man shaking a fist at a poor woman and thin, poorly dressed children. Image courtesy of Spartacus Educational.

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She Manages Hymeneal Joy

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How? By ensuring she applies her “exquisite tact.” This “especial characteristic” is “endowed upon her as a female.” Women were seen as nurturers and prime examples of goodness. The home was the Victorian wife/mother’s domain, and she, its queen.

Naturally, any woman who loves her husband and children will ensure their happiness. She works this gentle magic on all the little things (“trifles”) “which make the sum of human things.”

Oooooo-kay.

Naturally, women of today see things differently.

Wow. Talk about hopelessly 19th Century and woefully out of date. I couldn’t resist sharing this article, however, because its brief “sum of human things” is perfect for 1876. This single newspaper article illustrates so much about Victorian America’s expectations of women. What should they do? What work is appropriate? How are women different from men?

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The Wife

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Pre-Victorian attitudes about the role of wives is touched upon in an almost poetic manner in an article titled The Wife. The Victorian Era began in 1837, a full decade after this publication.

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THE WIFE, published in Statesman and Gazette of Natchez, Mississippi on January 3, 1827. I transcribed, word-for-word, with spellings as they are printed. [sic]

Transcription~

THE WIFE.–How sweet to the soul of man (says Hierocles) is the society of a beloved wife! When wearied and broke down by the labor of the day her endearments soothe, her tender cares restore him. The solicitudes and anxieties, and the heaviest misfortunes of life, are hardly to be born by him who has the weight and business of domestic cares at the same time to contend with: but how much lighter do they seem, when, after his necessary avocations are over, he returns to his home and finds there a partner of all his griefs and troubles, who takes for his sake her share of domestic labors upon her, and soothes the anguish of anticipation. A wife is not, as she is falsely represented and esteemed by some, a burden or sorrow to man. No, she shares his burdens, and she alleviates his sorrows; for there is no difficulty so insupportable in life, but it may be surmounted by mutual labours of the affectionate concord of that holy partnership.

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~ Statesman and Gazette of Natchez, Mississippi on January 3, 1827.

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The Wife.– presented in Statesman and Gazette of Natchez, Mississippi on January 3, 1827. Digital scan is difficult to read, so this original isn’t meant to be large enough to read.

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Related Articles

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Kristin Holt | Victorian America: Women Responsible for Domestic Happiness (1860). Closely related to Victorian America: Women Responsible for Happiness at Home (1876)

See this closely related article!

Kristin Holt | Who Makes the Best Victorian Wives?

Updated July 2019
Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC