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Despite the growth of industry, urban centers and immigration, America in the late 19th century was still predominantly rural. Seven out of ten people in the United States lived in small towns with populations under or on farms in In Indiana, the census reported a population of almost 2 million residents, about 55 per square mile, 1,, men and , women. About three out of four people lived in rural areas. The "Cult of Domesticity, " first named and identified in the early part of the century, was solidly entrenched by late nineteenth century, especially in rural environments.

The Victorian home was to be a haven of comfort and quiet, sheltered from the harsh realities of the working world. Housework took on a scientific quality, efficiency being the watchword. Children were to be cherished and nurtured. Morality was protected through the promulgation of Protestant beliefs and social protest against alcohol, poverty and the decay of urban living. Pulling against these traditions was the sense of urgency, movement and progress so evident in the geographical, industrial, technological and political changes affecting the country.

Jobs opened up in factories, retail establishments and offices, giving single women new options. Education became mandatory for both genders in many states. Women sought higher education, too, first in all female institutions and then in co-ed environments. The proliferation of popular literature and the expansion of communications through the press and other means could not have helped but enlighten rural women to the opportunities opening up for their gender.

Their lives, however, were tied to house and children, endlessly unacknowledged work, little opportunity for outside contact or variety of experience, and little relief from everyday triviality. The extent to which farm women felt any fulfillment or larger meaning may indeed have been tied to how well they could balance the tensions between the expectations of the culture and the day-to-day, unrelenting tasks of housekeeping, child rearing and farm life.

While she does so much for the comfort of others, she nearly ruins her own health and life. It is because she cannot be easy and comfortable when there is the least disorder or dirt to be seen. Implicit in this advice is the notion that by keeping a clean, neat, pious home and filling it with warmth and inviting smells, women are achieving their highest calling.

The movement to elevate the status of housework found an early voice in the writings of Catherine Beecher. Beecher devoted much effort to glorifying housekeeping and attempting to convince her readers that their daily duties, however tedious or distressing, constituted important works ased to them by Nature and God.

She went so far as to suggest a explicit weekly schedules and rational des for the kitchen and cooking areas. Her many manuals and cookbooks offered not only a philosophy for housekeeping, but practical methods for accomplishing those philosophical ends. In his book, So Sweet to Labor, author Norton Juster looked at the advice given and the responses received in a few publications of the time. Women wrote letters that described the endless, repetitive work undertaken week by week. Not that it was all woe — many reported about the joys of fulfilling their womanly role as keeper of the house, or wrote to chastise their complaining sisters.

The weekly schedule of "drudge" likely included laundry on Monday, ironing and mending on Tuesday, baking on Wednesday and Saturday, daily tidying of kitchen and parlor, and thorough cleaning on Thursday and again on Saturday. This was in addition to childcare, three meals a day, hauling water and keeping the fire burning in the stove, a chore that in itself took at least one hour each day. Then there was making the family garments and seasonal preserving of fruits, vegetables and meat. Often, too, the scope of work extended to the farm itself. Women had charge of the farm garden, livestock and poultry and work related to "civilizing" the farm.

During planting and harvest, if she did not work in the fields herself, she provided room and board for the extra help that did. How-to manuals, magazine and newspaper articles set high, if not impossible, standards for moral rectitude, cleanliness and cheerfulness. The realities posed by the sheer of tasks to be completed daily, monthly and yearly stressed even the hardiest of women. Even so, many women responded to the challenges place before them with humor and pride. All my life I have been engaged in the study of their special ailments, and no conclusion is more firmly rooted in my mind than a devout thankfulness that I belong to the other sex.

Much was written in the closing years of the nineteenth century about the innate health — or lack of it — of the female. Corresponding to the idea of "separate spheres" for women and men in society, the idea that women were, by their nature, sickly, complemented the idea that men were robust, aggressive, healthy and thus naturally predisposed to the harsh, competitive world of work while women were more suited to the quiet, sanctified life of the home.

This is not to say that the illness which did afflict women were inconsequential. For example, for every women who were twenty in , more than 5 would die of tuberculosis by age 30, more than 8 by age Disease was real, and devastating. Rural women were required, by the nature of their work, to be healthy and strong. But that was often not the case. Beset by long days of labor, they were often exhausted, mentally and physically. It was generally accepted, however, that the prevalence of sickness and decline was the result of the "peculiarity" of her anatomy - woman as a natural invalid.

Contemporary writings often noted the preponderance of nervous disorders and "fretfulness. Middle and upper class women could and did seek medical care from male doctors. Working class women sought help in patent medicines and an increasing of self-help books and magazines. Cures calling for eggs, tar, soot, herbal extracts and other household ingredients illuminated the s of popular magazines. For example, a recipe for a cure for rheumatism states, "To a handful of blue flag root add a pint of good spirits; let stand for a week.

Dose, a spoon full three times a day, and increase by degrees to three tablespoons full a day. Or, apply a poultice of hot potatoes; renew as often as it becomes hard or cool. It is said to be a very excellent remedy. Similar concoctions were proposed for the cure of bleeding lungs, cancer, shortness of breath and cough.

These home remedies were often supplemented with a myriad patent medicines, many with high percentages of alcohol, and the liberal use of laudanum. Childbearing and child mortality remained two of the most serious health issues for women and their families. There is evidence that white women in the later part of the century were controlling their fertility.

Between and , their birthrates dropped by half, while those of blacks and European immigrants grew, even though their childhood death rates were higher. On average, women earlier in the century gave birth to seven live babies in her lifetime. One-third to one-half would not survive to age 5.

By , the birthrate had dropped to an average of 3. Even with this reduction in birthrate, many families lost children early, before they reached adulthood. No description of the lives of women in the late nineteenth century would be complete without a discussion of the constrictions of clothing and the influence of style.

Elaborate dresses, with bustles, and nipped waists and yards of heavy fabric and lace, illustrated the s of these magazines. One reported that the "well-dressed" woman of the late nineteenth century wore 37 pounds of clothing in the winter, 19 which hung from her corseted waist.

Probably the most disputed piece of clothing during this period was the corset. Both physicians and early feminists decried their use. Long term of wearing the undergarment included fractured ribs, collapsed lungs, displacement of the liver and uterine prolapses. Another theory, proposed by physician Orson Fowler, was based on the assumption that "compression of any part produced inflammation. Feminists attacked corseting because of its potential harm to internal organs and its restriction of movement. They advised physicians to counsel their female patients on the dangers of corseting. Even popular literature, where illustrations of the latest fashions prevailed, commented on corseting.

One woman wrote to the Household in , "I omitted corsets when speaking of underthings. They have been banished from my wardrobe so long I had almost forgotten there was such an article. One feels so perfectly free and easy. Few objections were raised to the idea that girls should be educated on par with boys.

Instead the need for such education was tied to the needs of the new republic; women would make sure that patriot sons were reared properly. As publicly supported education expanded in the early decades of the 19th century, girls were included along with boys. By , it was almost as likely for a white girl as a white boy to attend school, even in farming regions of the country.

The success of these early ventures assured that when secondary education expanded after the Civil War, it would be overwhelmingly co-educational. In , there were only high schools in the country. By , the figure was almost and by the end of the century, the had grown to From until the middle of the twentieth century, female high school graduates outed male graduates. And, the Census of found that the proportion of literacy for young women was actually higher than of young men.

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