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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Cult of Domesticity
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Cult of Domesticity
Text 1. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
Text 2. Caroline Gilman
Text 3. Catharine E. Beecher
» Reading Guide
•  Link

Text 4. Harriet Jacobs
Text 5. Fanny Fern
Text 6. Godey's Lady's Book
Text 7. Rev. Theodore Parker
Text 8. Elizabeth Cady Stanton

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
3.  Catharine E. Beecher, A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School, 1841, Ch. 1, "Peculiar Responsibilities of American Women"

Here in one text are intermingled the themes of gender, religion, and emerging American identity, as Catharine Beecher (sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe and a crusader for women's education) offers a brief political treatise to introduce her book on homemaking, childrearing, and healthful living. Quoting abundantly from Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1835/1840), she argues that woman's subordinate place in American society is the ultimate fulfillment of democratic and Christian principles, that women are happy in their place (and that Europe has it all wrong). Excerpts useful in the classroom. 10 pages.

Discussion questions
  ·  How is the "Golden Rule" the ultimate principle of both Christianity and democracy?
  ·  By accepting a subordinate role, how does a woman fulfill her roles as Christian and citizen?
  ·  How are women subordinate and yet superior to men, according to Beecher? At the same time, how are women of equal value as men?
  ·  Does Beecher agree with de Tocqueville that American women "attach a sort of pride to the voluntary surrender of their own will"?
  ·  To Beecher, what is the challenge assigned by God to America, and what is women's role in meeting this challenge? Why would Elizabeth Cady Stanton firmly oppose this view?
  ·  What does democracy offer to women?

Reading highlights
  ·  Note the contrast in tone from the fiction and expository pieces written by women in this period.
  ·  Take care to differentiate between Beecher's text and the two extended excerpts from de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, which are set in quotes but not indented or separated from the main text.

» Link

Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did women of this period define themselves? What stories did they choose to tell?
  •  In what ways did these women exercise—and define—power and influence?
  •  How did the “cult of domesticity” shape the debate over woman’s place in antebellum American society?
  •  In what ways did this debate reflect the prevailing tensions of race, class, region, and religion in American society?

Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

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Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
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Revised: January 2002