Cult of DomesticityCult of True Womanhood
Women's lives prior to 1850:
  • In 1831 in England and Wales, less than 5 million of the 15 million who took part in the census lived in cities.
  • The industrial Revolution had not been integrated into women's daily lives:
    • Women were still doing their own clothes making, carrying their own water to their homes, etc... (not all homes had running water)
  • Prior to and during the Cult of Domesticity, women were politically inferior to men and did not share equal rights as citizens; because of this it was easy for the cult of domesticity to form since it simply created more distinction and definition between the roles of men and women.- Women had to rely on men to speak for them publicly in general forums, this corresponded well with the development of the concept of "two spheres of life" where women were meant to be in the private sphere, whereas men acted in the public sphere.

The Change:
  • In 1900 the population of Wales and England was 32.5 million. Big increase in population from before.
  • Development of a middle class
    • movement of men into factory jobs/ jobs in urban areas.
  • Although women no longer necessarily needed to provide their own goods because of industrialization and increased production out of households, women remained in the home and focused on tasks such as cleaning, childbearing, clothing etc..
  • The need for women to remain in the home and preform household duties almost became a necessity for middle and upper class families because they men were focused on earning money for the family and were not proficient enough with their raising their children because of "men's individualistic and aggressive natures" - Barbara Smith Mankiller.
  • Women's work outside of the home was valued significantly less than before the Industrial Revolution.

Why The Cult of Domesticity Formed:
  • Popular ideas/beliefs about the differences between men and womenThe cult of domesticity made being a house wife a higher position and of greater importance
    • Women were physically inferior to men
    • Women were intellectually inferior to men
    • Women emotionally different to men
  • This cult of domesticity made women's jobs as caring for the home and childbearing/ child rearing and important job, just like important jobs that men had.
    • Even though middle and upper class women received no wage for the "job" they were working in their homes, their position as a domestic woman had prestige and respect from society.
  • Emphasis had been placed on the importance of the home: "The Home is the crystal of society--the nucleus of national character; and from that source, be it pure or tainted, issue the habits, principles and maxims which govern public as well as private life. The nation comes from the nursery."-Samuel Smiles, Self-Help, 1859(Quote found in Claudia Nelson's Family Ties in Victorian England)Woman's Rights Were: The right to love whom others scorn,The right to comfort and to mourn,The right to shed new joy on earth,The right to feel the soul's high worth,Such woman's rights a God will blessAnd crown their champions with success.
    - ( From Professor Lavender on The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood (web page) )

Enforcement & Encouragement of the Cult of Domesticity:
  • Many employers created "marriage bars" that prohibited married women to get a job at their businesses.
    • Furthermore, women were intentionally paid less than men in jobs in order to encourage the idea that women were not supposed to be unmarried and work out of the home for long.
  • The wealthier a family was, the greater chance that the wives could adhere strictly to the cult of domesticity.
    • when possible, maids and servants were used to ensure that all aspects of the wife's home were perfect. The wife became the overseer of these hired workers
  • Publications for women often enforced the principles of the Cult of Domesticity. Examples of these publications include: Thomas Wright's Some Habits and Customs of the Working Classes (1867), Isabella Beeton in The Book of Household Management (1861), "The Good Wife," Family Friend (1852), English Woman's Journal (1859).
    • {These publications were cited in Claudia Nelson's Family Ties in Vicotrian England}

  • Advertisements for cleaning products highlighted all the jobs a good housewife was supposed to do such as cleaning all aspects of the home (floors, glass, etc.) and cleaning kitchen products such as countertops and pots & pans.

This Image was taken from website but was found in Claudia Nelslon's Family Ties in Victorian England The photo above illustrates how advertisements targeted what women were supposed to do in the home.

  • Although Women were considered intellectually inferior to men, It was a mother's job to educate her children when they are young.

This image displays a women teaching her daughter and providing an educational foundation for her.

  • Women were encouraged to take part in the private "Sphere of life"


This image is a satirical print from the 1800s exhibiting "The Two Spheres of Life."

"The Victorian cult of domesticity was above all a cult of maternity." -Claudia Nelson in her book, Family Ties in Victorian England
  • Women's pregnancy and ability to go through childbirth was used as evidence to support the popular belief that women were supposed to sacrifice their lives for others (their husband and children)
    • There was known danger and pain involved in childbirth during this period.
  • Fathers did not take a significant part in the bringing up of infants, because of the domestication of women, men's responsibility in aiding the family was to take care of public matters and provide income for his family.
    • However housewives of lower income social classes were responsible for buying goods, clothing, and food that the family needed, so these women needed to be aware of how to stretch their husband's income as far as possible.
  • Upper to Middle class women would have three servants to aid in child rearing. These servants were most likely a cook, a housemaid, and a nursery maid.
  • Women were responsible for teaching their children religion.

The Function of Wives:
  • A wife's main and most important duty was to make her home pleasant for her husband and children.
    • Moreover, if a wife failed to do what was expected of her, she would be held accountable if the health of her husband and children declined.
  • The woman's behavior and ability to keep a nice and clean home dictated her husbands behavior
    • If a woman was able to act in accordance with her domestic duties, than her reward was her husband's hasty return home everyday after work. However if a wife did not keep up with her domestic responsibilities, her husband would probably react by drinking or use of some other outlet.
  • Women provided the morals of their home and family.

Books Sources:

Kelley , Graham . "Gone to the Shops" shopping in Victorian England. Westport : Praeger Publishers , 2008. Print.

Nelson , Claudia . Family Ties in Victorian England . Westport : Praeger Publishers , 2007. Print.

Mankiller, Barbara. The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History. Reprint . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999. eBook. < the cult of domesticity arose&source=bl&ots=LxNUcyBXjL&sig=lb4tDFYMRAzn6ZEHTCDafReqZuI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=nvI6T52IFMfCgAeHkbSZCw&ved=0CFQQ6AEwBg

Website/ Online Sources:
Lavender , . "The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood." . N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb 2012. <>.

Ellis, Sarah. "The Cult of Domesticity: A System of Middle-Class Values and Social Duties ." "The Women of England: Their Social Duties and Domestic Habits,". N.p., 1993. Web. 14 Feb 2012. <>.

"Finding a Place: Women's Search for Public Life." . N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Feb 2012. <>.

Mintz, Steven. "Housework in Late 19th Century America." Digital History . N.p., 15 Feb 2012. Web. 15 Feb 2012. <>.

Image Sources:

Image of Brooke’s Soap Monkey Brand

Image of Mother teaching her daughter how to read

Image of “two spheres of life”