I'm headed to Charlotte, NC, today to speak at a women's conference at CrossWay Community Church. One of my topics will be about the history of domesticity and why there is tension in our culture today about the value of the home. I mentioned in a prior blog post that I was working on a chapter about this topic and an alert reader, Linda Bronkar, sent me this 1999 article by Nancy Pearcey titled, "Is Love Enough? Recreating the Economic Base of the Family."
If you recall, the Practical Issues for Godly Women series began with a question. Rebecca asked: "I understand homemaking is to be a priority for women, but is homemaking to be the only priority/purpose/what-have-you for a woman?" It's been a long, windy, and somewhat distracted road to get back to this particular question, but I wanted to explore some other "nooks and crannies" of biblical femininity before we circled back again to this topic.
So now that we are here, I want to link to this article because it does a stellar job of encapsulating all the research I've come across on the history of the home. (Wish I had found it first--it would have saved me a lot of time!) Here are two excerpts. The first addresses the family prior to the Industrial Revolution:
Colonial families lived much the way families have always lived in traditional societies. Prior to the 19th century, the vast majority of people in the world lived on farms or in peasant villages. Productive work was done in the home or its outbuildings, whether for subsistence or for sale. Work was done not by individuals, but by families. Stores, offices, and workshops were located in a front room, with living quarters either upstairs or in the rear. The boundaries of the home were fluid and permeable; the "world" entered continually in the form of clients, business colleagues, customers, and apprentices.
What did this integration of work and life mean for family relationships? For husband and wife, it meant they inhabited the same universe, working side by side in a common enterprise (though not necessarily in identical tasks). For the mother, the location of work within the home meant she was able to raise children while still participating in the family sustenance. Marriage in colonial times "meant to become a co-worker beside a husband, if necessary learning new skills in butchering, silversmith work, printing, or upholstering--whatever special skills the husband’s work required." Of course, women were also responsible for household tasks which required a wide range of skills: spinning wool and cotton; weaving it into cloth; sewing the family’s clothes; gardening and preserving food; preparing meals without pre-processed ingredients; making soap, buttons, candles, medicines. Colonial mothers did not need to start a feminist movement to demand a role in economically productive work. Many of the goods used in colonial society were manufactured by women, doing the brainwork (planning and managing) as well as the handwork.
Fathers enjoyed the same integration of work and child rearing responsibilities. Parenting was not, as today, almost exclusively the mother’s domain. Sermons, child-rearing manuals, and other prescriptive literature of the day addressed both parents, admonishing them to "raise up" their children together. When manuals did address one parent, it was usually the father, who was thought to be particularly important in religious and intellectual training. With productive endeavor centered on the family hearth, fathers were "a visible presence, year after year, day after day." They trained their children to work alongside them. "Fatherhood was thus an extension, if not an integral part, of much routine activity."
It took only 50 years to radically transform both our economy and our family life. The startling pace of the Industrial Revolution introduced breathtaking change from 1780 to 1830. In reaction to the harsh reality of the industrialized workforce, the home took on a special status as a "haven" in the early to mid-19th century--a period that created "the cult of domesticity." But, as Nancy Pearcey points out, it didn't last very long:
For all the glorification of the home during the height of the Cult of Domesticity, the stubborn fact remained that many important functions once performed in the home were now performed by other institutions. The family’s sustenance came from without; a husband’s wages, status, and professional friendships were all based on associations outside the home. For all the transcendent values associated with it, the home was becoming an adjunct to the "real" world outside.
Fewer people seemed to reverence those transcendent values anyway. After the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, evolutionism took over biology and the social sciences. With its implacable materialism, Darwinism undermined confidence in any transcendent truths. If home stood for the outmoded values of piety and religion, then the home itself was an outmoded institution.
Moreover, Social Darwinism took direct aim on the home by exalting the public sphere as the seat of evolutionary progress. Beginning with the assumption that men are superior to women, Social Darwinists like Herbert Spencer sought to explain why men had evolved faster. They proposed that, from their brute beginnings, males fought for survival out in the world and were thus subject to natural selection, a process that weeds out the weak and inferior. Women, at home nurturing the young, were out of reach of natural selection and hence evolved more slowly. What is significant is the contempt Social Darwinists expressed for both women’s character and women’s environment (i.e., the home). Homelife was denounced as a drag on evolutionary development.
As you would expect from her writing, Nancy Pearcey's article is dense with information and insights. I highly recommend that you continue reading "Is Love Enough? Recreating the Economic Base of the Family."