The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families 1600-1900
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A highly original account of the evolution of the family unit
Current debates about the future of the family are often based on serious misconceptions about its past. Arguing that there is no biologically mandated or universally functional family form, Stephanie Coontz traces the complexity and variety of family arrangements in American history, from Native American kin groups to the emergence of the dominant middle-class family ideal in the 1890s.
Surveying and synthesizing a vast range of previous scholarship, as well as engaging more particular studies of family life from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, Coontz offers a highly original account of the shifting structure and function of American families. Her account challenges standard interpretations of the early hegemony of middle-class privacy and “affective individualism,” pointing to the rich tradition of alternative family behaviors among various ethnic and socioeconomic groups in America, and arguing that even middle-class families went through several transformations in the course of the nineteenth centure.
The present dominant family form, grounded in close interpersonal relations and premised on domestic consumption of mass-produced household goods has arisen, Coontz argues, from a long and complex series of changing political and economic conjunctures, as well as from the destruction or incorporation of several alternative family systems. A clear conception of American capitalism’s combined and uneven development is therefore essential if we are to understand the history of the family as a key social and economic unit.
Lucid and detailed, The Social Origins of Private Life is likely to become the standard history of its subject.
said committee…. May never again the interests of the oppressed, downtrodden laboring classes be committed to their legislation.’) At its peak in 1846, the Ten Hour Movement garnered more than 4,000 mill workers’ signatures, a number that represented 40 per cent of the Lowell workforce.90 Some of these women raised working-class feminist issues. Lavinia Wright, president of the United Tailoresses’ Society, demanded the right for women to vote and sit in legislatures. Louise Mitchell, secretary
Conversely, the rise in the age of marriage in the nineteenth century may have been associated with the shift into occupations requiring longer and more expensive periods of training.43 David Levine’s detailed study of four English villages in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries demonstrates that different fertility rates among villages, and occupational variations in fertility within villages, can be explained by changes in both the type and the total amount of labor required within
followed, as the business and middle classes responded in shock and outrage to this evidence of working-class disaffection and potential power. Sean Wilentz has suggested that Haymarket was just the ‘beginning of what may some day come to be recognized as the most intense (and probably the most violent) counter-offensive ever waged against any country’s organized workers.’87 The fledgling movement proved unable to withstand the assault. Within a year membership in the labor movement had dropped
access to new sources of power and prestige, white missionaries and government officials attempted to impose their values of patriarchal authority upon the Indians with whom they had contact. The earliest land treaties between the Iroquois and the Europeans were signed by the matrons of the tribes as well as the chiefs, but the whites consistently attempted to deal with the chiefs only. Missionaries remonstrated with Indian men about allowing themselves to be ‘henpecked’ by women, and attempted
‘Afro-American Kinship Before and After Emancipation,’ in Medick and Sabean, eds, Interest and Emotion (Cambridge, 1984), p. 248. 37. Ira Berlin, ‘Time, Space, and the Evolution of Afro-American Society,’ in Thomas Frazier, ed., The Underside of American History (New York, 1982), vol. 1, p. 46. 38. Berlin, ‘Evolution,’ p. 71. 39. Gutman, ‘Afro-American Kinship’; Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750–1925 (New York, 1976); Alan Kulikoff, ‘The Beginnings of the Afro-American