How Were Women Treated in the 1800s?

The lives of women in the 1800s varied greatly depending on their class and where they lived. A common thread which ties them together is obligation, or the responsibilities and restrictions forced upon them by society.

The day-to-day lives of men and women were quite clearly divided during the 1800s. People were expected to perform specific duties and fill certain roles based on their sex in order to ensure that the home and community functioned as smoothly as possible. For men, this usually meant working outdoors and participating in town functions. Women, however, were much more restricted in their movements. Most of their work was done in and around the home. Tasks like sewing, spinning, cooking, cleaning, and gardening were all familiar to most working-class women. Marriage and children were also inevitable for the majority of women, as they provided a certain degree of security and social status.

In many places, women were unable to inherit property or money. However, despite the fact that they were not legal citizens at the time, many women did their best to maintain a degree of autonomy. Women would often run their own small businesses from home by trading homemade cloth or food for cash or other goods. There are accounts of women taking up jobs outside the home as well, especially with the onset of industrialization. Still, the majority of women, especially those of the lower working classes, had to resign themselves to a very restricted life overshadowed by the men of their community.