America in Class Lessons

Women, Temperance, and Domesticity

Author: Schramm, Richard R. (NHC Vice President for Education Programs, 1984–2016)

Advisor: MacKethan, Lucinda H. (NHC Fellow, 1984–85)Abzug, Robert H.

During much of the nineteenth century, middle-class American women saw their behavior regulated by a social system known today as the cult of domesticity, which limited their sphere of influence to home and family. Within that space they developed networks and modes of expression that allowed them to speak out on major moral questions facing the nation. However, those indirect and subtle avenues of influence proved ineffectual against the issue of alcohol abuse, which struck at the heart of family. Finding themselves virtually powerless to combat alcoholism and the spread of the saloon from within the domestic sphere, some women took the radical step of engaging in public protest and in so doing mobilized the moral authority of domesticity. Ironically, in the end, the very family life they sought to defend frustrated their efforts at reform.

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Subjects: Gender and Sexuality; History; Education Studies; American History; Women; Temperance Movement; Activism; Gender Roles; Domesticity