Great Expectations 2 18 08

Great Expectations 2 18 08 - Great Expectations: Marriage...

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Great Expectations: Marriage and Divorce in Post-Victorian America Liberation and Heightening Divorce Rates from 1880 to 1920 Kaitlyn Herthel February 18, 2008 Development of US II Section 09- P. Clemens
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Herthel 2 Throughout the 19 th and 20 th centuries, leading well into the 21 st , divorce was heavily frowned upon by society. Natural progression indicated that men and women should get married and start a family, and while the man becomes the bread-winner who functions in the public sphere, the virtuous woman is to remain at home taking care of the children and household chores. In her book Great Expectations: Marriage and Divorce in Post-Victorian America , author Elaine Tyler May studies divorce proceedings in attempts to answer why divorces became more common in the United States, specifically California and New Jersey, between the 1880s and 1920s. She cites hundreds of cases involving divorces based on desertion, extreme cruelty, adultery and willful abandonment. As morals lowered and mass consumption and leisure activities rose, so did the rates of divorces. The sexes were becoming liberated at different speeds, resulting in unhappy and unsuccessful marriages. Society and some of its members were changing from one of Victorian standing to a more modernized era, while many people were continuing with their past morals and gendered ideology. Women who did not follow traditional view of wife and motherhood were not fit for marriage and gave their male counterparts cause for divorce. During the Victorian era in American history, women were expected to be moral and virtuous. Their main obligation was to the home, caring for the family as their lives revolved around the private sphere. During the act of courtship in the 1880s and earlier, men sought out women who would be good wives and mothers, as “that was a man’s prerogative; he wanted a ‘lady’ for a wife” (May 33). Other men were attracted by youthful and fun women, which the media encouraged in higher numbers by the 1920s. Once married, however, women were expected to be submissive to their husband a moral leader for their
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Herthel 3 children. Above all, they were expected to have children and be good mothers. May speculates that perhaps the most grievous violation of the role of wife was the denial of motherhood. Women who were not maternal were freaks; and no man was to be compelled to live with such a spouse. In the 1880s, the issue rarely came up. When it did, there was no question about the outcome (38). Men would be most often granted a divorce when women refused to bear children, or would not sleep with their husband and his command. This issue is clearly exemplified in cases revolving the lack of submission on behalf of the wife. In the exceptional case of Henry and Emily Burr, Emily’s strong-willed and
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This note was uploaded on 04/25/2008 for the course HIST 104 taught by Professor Isenberg during the Spring '08 term at Rutgers.

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Great Expectations 2 18 08 - Great Expectations: Marriage...

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