What Was the Effect of the Cult of Domesticity on Women?

The Cult of Domesticity, a 19th-century cultural celebration of women's place in the home, caused middle-class women's place in society to be limited to overseeing the household and raising children. Middle-class "true" women faced feminine stereotypes that demanded they be pious, submissive, meek, frail and pure. The Cult of Domesticity posited that they were best suited to domestic roles and mothering. They were expected to preserve civility and middle-class family values through their performance of these roles.

The Cult of Domesticity, which is also known as the Cult of True Womanhood, stigmatized women who left the sheltered environment of the home to expose themselves in trade or politics, which was the realm of men. Middle-class women who remained single or childless were relegated to the margins of a society that celebrated marriage and child-rearing as a duty. In visual and literary culture, the Cult of Domesticity resulted in images such as the popular "Angel in the House": a submissive, gentle, pure creature that existed to please her husband and family in the confines of the home.

This did not mean that women were not publicly influential; many women could and did participate in politics. By the mid-19th century, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe used the values of domesticity in her novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to win sympathy for the plight of Southern slaves. The novel argues that slavery undermines the domesticity at the heart of America. In this situation, a woman author capitalized on the Cult of Domesticity to further a political cause.

Lower-class women were not as constrained by the Cult of Domesticity, which mainly affected middle- and upper-class women. Poverty marred the images of purity and gentleness that were prized in domestic culture. Therefore, poor women had more freedom of choice to work outside the home.