Domestic Revolution

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During the 19th century there was a Domestic Revolution taking place, where American families were beginning to be shaped and formed by such forces as the industrialization of the nation. From this movement, different and new classes of families emerged. The characteristics that differentiated these emerging family classes usually pertained to the social-economic status of the family. Among the classes that emerged were the urban middle class and working class. Parents of both classes worked hard to support their families where the father worked long hours while the mother had to cook, do housework and side jobs just to make ends meet. Because children were their future and they hoped for better lives for them, the parents tried to provide as much education as possible to the children. However, receiving education usually depended on the economic status/conditions of the family. Life for the working class was especially harsh and a struggle as they could only afford necessities and had few or no luxuries.

Even though life was not easy, parents continued to raise their children with a sense of security and hope. The children laughed and worked hard believing their goals could be achieved. Parents believed they would be able to support their families through hard work and faith. The males had their own particular expectations to live up to, as well as the females. Both males and females children had to cooperate in order to keep the family intact and together. The middle and working class families raised their children, educated them and had gender expectations in similar and different ways.

Both classes of children were raised similar when they were under the age of 10 and most of them were raised by the mother and father. The mother usually played the gender role in both classes. However, the working class mother had less time to devote to their kids because they had to do house work and earn extra money from doing piecework in the home. For example, they had to make embroideries, produce artificial flowers, tailor garments, or do laundry (1988, Steven Mintz and Susan Kellogg). Both boys and girls play together a lot before adolescence. Boys played hide and seek, slide and ball games while girls played tea set, dolls, etc (9/27/01, Katz's lecture notes). Most Nineteenth-century children knew work at least as well as play. Even though, play time were permitted by working class parents but they still needed to help out with house work. Therefore, at a very early age, kids of working class families were taught the value of work and their contribution to the survival of the family. Working class girls were usually helping their mother to prepare meals and cleaning the house. Meanwhile, the middle class daughters were being closely watched on what they could eat so that they could remain pure. It was definitely the mother's job to monitor what kind of food they fed their daughters and help them avoid temptations. (9/20/01, Katz's lecture notes). According to "American Girlhood in the Nineteenth Century," most young women required some housekeeping skills. Girls learned how to knit, sew, and cook, to wash clothes, clean house, and preserve food. They gathered eggs and picked berries, washed dishes, and carried wood for the kitchen stove. Girls were also expected to help care for younger children in the family, sometimes to the point where a younger brother or sister were referred to as "my child" (1994, Anne Scott MacLeod). For working class boys, they didn't start working full time until the age of 14 or 15 years since there weren't many job offerings for kids under this age. This is a similarity that was shared by middle class boys. (9/20/01, Katz's lecture notes).

Ideally, education should have been accessible to every child. Realistically, it was not. Much of the reason for this disparity related to the economic and financial conditions of the family. Middle class families certainly had an advantage over the working class since conditions, living and financial, were more favorable to middle class families. This advantage permitted middle class kids to continue their education longer, thus creating class differences. Middle class kids remained in school longer from age 5 through 17, while the majority of working class kids remained in school from age 5 through 14 only, with some dropping out at an early age of 10. It's not hard to understand why working class kids received an inferior or inadequate level of education when you consider the fact that a significant portion, as much one third of the family's income, was dependent on the children. Therefore, given the choice of education or supporting the family, working class kids were forced to abandon their education.

Parents of both the working and middle class had different gender expectations between boys and girls. Some girls were indeed forbidden to play with boys, unless perhaps with their brothers, but others chose boys as companions and met no objections from their parents (Pg.88, Childhood in America by Macleod). Italian Americans expected their working girls to come home after work. They also try to prevent them going to clubs and amusement parks. Girls were expected to turn in their whole paycheck but they usually bargain to keep some so they could buy some clothes. According to the article of "Domestic Revolutions" the Mintz and Kellogg quoted "decision on whether women or children should work, and when sons and daughters should marry- tended to be based on family needs rather than individual choices." It was common for many ethnic groups, for example, to have daughters leave school at an early age and enter the work force so that the son could continue his education. It was also customary for at least one daughter to remain unmarried so that she could care for younger siblings or her parents in their old age. Boys got to keep half of their pay checks and they were allowed to go out. Working class kids were more connected to the street, they got to hang out and play. On the other hand, middle class kids were always encourage by their parents to be with outside of the world, after age of 7 they were encouraged to participate in sport to build their sense of competitiveness and image of being strong.

The 19th century was an important time and era in terms of the changes and development in the many different family classes. From these classes, we were able to see the many differences and similarities among the ways children were raised and educated.