Just a Housewife: The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America / Edition 1

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Housewives constitute a large section of the population, yet they have received very little attention, let alone respect. Glenna Matthews, who herself spent many years as "just a housewife" before becoming a scholar of American history, sets out to redress this imbalance.
While the male world of work has always received the most respect, Matthews maintains that widespread reverence for the home prevailed in the nineteenth century. The early stages of industrialization made possible a strong tradition of cooking, baking, and sewing that gave women great satisfaction and a place in the world. Viewed as the center of republican virtue, the home also played an important religious role. Examining novels, letters, popular magazines, and cookbooks, Matthews seeks to depict what women had and what they have lost in modern times. She argues that the culture of professionalism in the late nineteenth century and the culture of consumption that came to fruition in the 1920s combined to kill off the "cult of domesticity." This important, challenging book sheds new light on a central aspect of human experience: the essential task of providing a society's nurture and daily maintenance.

This volume depicts the changing attitudes towards domesticity in this country, offering a reassessment of the task of providing a society's nurture and dailiy maintenance.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Excellent—not only for the information content, but for the intriguing thesis regarding the concept of "just a housewife." Good introduction, too, to women's history in a survey course."—E.H. McKinley, Asbury College

"A lively account of changing views of the housewife and the home from the colonial period through the 1960s....Matthews' portrayal of the currents surrounding the nineteenth-century household are fresh and convincing."—The Philadelphia Inquirer

"It is the intriguing story of the ascendancy of the housewife in the American home that sets Glenna Matthews' original book apart....Her experience and good common sense enliven, and enrich, this valuable study. One looks forward to her next book."—The Washington Post Book World

"A sweeping survey of the changing image and perception of the housewife in America from colonial times to the present...groundbreaking."—Library Journal

"A fascinating study that is sure to be of interest to a general audience, as well as to subject specialists."—Booklist

"A fascinating and significant guide to the history of housewifery in the United States."—Kathryn Kish Sklar, State University of New York, Binghamton

"An understanding and insightful book on America's homes and the women who, over the years, sustained them....It is especially valuable at just this point in history when the old time domesticity is passing from the American scene and a new domesticity is struggling to be born."—Carl Degler, Stanford University

"A rich compendium of anecdotes and information on American housekeeping from 1750 to the present."—New England Quarterly

"Matthews has done an excellent job of synthesizing recent scholarship on the conditions surrounding the development of domesticity....A provocative book. It may anger some scholars. It will certainly fascinate many. The author has done a fine job of producing a book with a bold argument that will keep scholars busy for a while. Matthews is to be commended for her willingness to put forth her ideas about domesticity and gender politics and for her lively use of language."—History of Education Quarterly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195059250
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/28/1989
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Glenna Matthews has recently taught at the campuses of the University of California at Berkeley and Davis.

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