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Mother and Children
Mother and Children

This image suggests the new role that many antebellum women took up, that of stay at home wife responsible for housekeeping and child rearing. While the eighteenth century had witnessed the spread of a system of household economy in which many men and women shared household chores and farm labor, the rise of a more diversified market economy allowed a new group of men to take salaried positions as professionals or office workers. As these men left home to work in well-paid jobs, their wives often gave up all duties but those pertaining to the home and family themselves. Led by the author Catharine Beecher and a legion of journalists and other cultural arbiters, many women came to regard this role as central to the progress of civilization. Their innate religiosity and other virtues made women powerful moderating influences upon men prone to aggressive and ill-considered behavior and subject to the rigors of an increasingly competitive world of work. Most importantly, these qualities made women powerful shapers of the nation's future, as they molded their children into virtuous adults.

Image source: Public domain
©Copyright 2002 Abraham Lincoln Historical Digitization Project