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At Home in Nineteenth-Century AmericaA Documentary History$

Amy G. Richter

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780814769133

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814769133.001.0001

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Home, Civilization, and Citizenship

Home, Civilization, and Citizenship

(p.97) 3 Home, Civilization, and Citizenship
At Home in Nineteenth-Century America

Amy G. Richter

NYU Press

Abstract and Keywords

As the domestic ideal increasingly included those beyond the white middle class (albeit in uneven and problematic ways), it inspired unexpected claims for political rights and supported new notions of citizenship. Chapter 3 documents how politically marginalized groups—advocates for abolition, woman’s rights, racial equality, Native American citizenship, and trade unionism—used domestic norms, goods, and labor to lay claim to “civilization” and to articulate their particular demands. Sources in this chapter include an excerpt from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and writings by W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, and Frances Willard. Susan La Flesche depicts Native American domesticity, and Caroline Dall and William Sylvis consider the relationship between waged labor, domesticity, and gender.

Keywords:   citizenship, civilization, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Frances Willard, Susan La Flesche, Caroline Dall, William Sylvis

As the domestic ideal increasingly included those beyond the white middle class (albeit in uneven and problematic ways, as depicted in the previous chapter), it inspired unexpected claims for political rights and supported new notions of citizenship. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s famous antislavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, renders the connection between home life and rights explicit, introducing Tom in the context of his respectable domesticity. How could Americans justify the enslavement of such a moral and homely man? How could the nation countenance an institution that endangered respectable home life? Echoing Stowe, after emancipation, Reconstruction, and the rise of Jim Crow, W. E. B. Du Bois used writings and photographs to document and advocate for a new black domesticity fitted for freedom and capable of instilling the skills of citizenship. This new African American home would, as depicted in the writings of Ida B. Wells, share white, middle-class moral ideas yet be adapted to community circumstances and goals.

Indeed many groups struggled to articulate the balance between conformity to the Victorian domestic mainstream and maintenance of cultural distinctiveness. While the 1887 Dawes Severalty Act reveals the U.S. government’s faith that dwelling in a private home would “civilize” Native Americans and fit them for citizenship, Susan La Flesche’s account of Native American home life quietly refutes the homogenizing effects of domesticity, instead noting continuity with the past and the persistence of tradition among her people.

Recognizing the ways in which domestic order and morality had become credentials for citizenship and objects of public policy, many marginalized groups seized upon them to advance a variety of political agendas. As a result, traditional domesticity was stretched in new directions, and seemingly radical calls for reform remained tied to conservative rhetoric and values. And so labor leader William Sylvis advocates (p.98) for trade unions, and Frances Willard argues for women’s suffrage, each building a case on women’s proper role as keepers of the moral home.

Even those who sought to challenge Victorian notions of gendered labor and paid employment often failed to think themselves free of the conventions of idealized domesticity. For example, the feminist lecturer Caroline Dall decries women’s isolation in the home yet buttresses her argument for women’s employment in terms of improved marital relations and a happy home life. Likewise, the legal case of Nancy Miller contends that women’s domestic labor has economic value but ultimately suggests that women’s financial independence within marriage will preserve domestic harmony. Again, rather than undermining domesticity, demands for new rights and economic relationships emphasized how reform would safeguard the home and better permit it to do its true moral and cultural work. What do you think of this as a strategy for change? Why did the domestic ideal prove so resilient at the end of the nineteenth century?

There Was Something about His Whole Air Self-Respecting and Dignified

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published serially in 1851 and 1852 in the National Era, an abolitionist journal. When the book was released in March 1852, the first printing of five thousand copies sold out in two days, and three hundred thousand copies were sold in the first year of publication. A response to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law requiring the return of runaway slaves, Stowe’s novel is essentially about the possibilities for a moral life in a nation committed to slavery. When readers encounter Tom’s idealized domestic arrangements, they already know that his master, Mr. Shelby, has agreed to sell him. The fragility of domestic life is a recurrent theme as Tom is passed from one situation and owner to the next. Every family he encounters—white and black, free and enslaved—has been compromised by slavery’s influence. Throughout the novel, domestic settings serve as markers and measures of characters’ morality—punctuating Tom’s journey from his own humble cabin to Simon Legree’s mansion of “coarse neglect and discomfort.”

The cabin of Uncle Tom was a small log building close adjoining to “the house,” as the negro par excellence designates his master’s dwelling. In (p.99) front it had a neat garden-patch, where, every summer, strawberries, raspberries, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, flourished under careful tending. The whole front of it was covered by a large scarlet bignonia and a native multiflora rose, which, entwisting and interlacing, left scarce a vestige of the rough logs to be seen. Here, also, in summer, various brilliant annuals, such as marigolds, petunias, four-o’clocks, found an indulgent corner in which to unfold their splendors, and were the delight and pride of Aunt Chloe’s heart.

Let us enter the dwelling. The evening meal at the house is over, and Aunt Chloe, who presided over its preparation as head cook, has left to inferior officers in the kitchen the business of clearing away and washing dishes, and come out into her own snug territories, to “get her ole man’s supper”; therefore, doubt not that it is she you see by the fire, presiding with anxious interest over certain frizzling items in a stewpan, and anon with grave consideration lifting the cover of a bake-kettle from whence steam forth indubitable intimations of “something good.” A round, black, shining face is hers, so glossy as to suggest the idea that she might have been washed over with white of eggs, like one of her own tea rusks. Her whole plump countenance beams with satisfaction and contentment from under her well-starched checked turban, bearing on it, however, if we must confess it, a little of that tinge of self-consciousness which becomes the first cook of the neighborhood, as Aunt Chloe was universally held and acknowledged to be.

A cook she certainly was, in the very bone and centre of her soul. Not a chicken or turkey or duck in the barnyard but looked grave when they saw her approaching, and seemed evidently to be reflecting on their latter end; and certain it was that she was always meditating on trussing, stuffing, and roasting, to a degree that was calculated to inspire terror in any reflecting fowl living. Her corn-cake, in all its varieties of hoe-cake, dodgers, muffins, and other species too numerous to mention, was a sublime mystery to all less practised compounders; and she would shake her fat sides with honest pride and merriment, as she would narrate the fruitless efforts that one and another of her compeers had made to attain to her elevation.

The arrival of company at the house, the arranging of dinners and suppers “in style,” awoke all the energies of her soul; and no sight was (p.100) more welcome to her than a pile of travelling trunks launched on the verandah, for then she foresaw fresh efforts and fresh triumphs.

Just at present, however, Aunt Chloe is looking into the bakepan; in which congenial operation we shall leave her till we finish our picture of the cottage.

In one corner of it stood a bed, covered neatly with a snowy spread; and by the side of it was a piece of carpeting, of some considerable size. On this piece of carpeting Aunt Chloe took her stand, as being decidedly in the upper walks of life; and it and the bed by which it lay, and the whole corner, in fact, were treated with distinguished consideration, and made, so far as possible, sacred from the marauding inroads and desecrations of little folks. In fact, that corner was the drawing-room of the establishment. In the other corner was a bed of much humbler pretensions, and evidently designed for use. The wall over the fireplace was adorned with some very brilliant scriptural prints, and a portrait of General Washington, drawn and colored in a manner which would certainly have astonished that hero, if ever he happened to meet with its like.

On a rough bench in the corner, a couple of woolly-headed boys, with glistening black eyes and fat shining cheeks, were busy in superintending the first walking operations of the baby, which, as is usually the case, consisted in getting up on its feet, balancing a moment, and then tumbling down,—each successive failure being violently cheered, as something decidedly clever.

A table, somewhat rheumatic in its limbs, was drawn out in front of the fire, and covered with a cloth, displaying cups and saucers of a decidedly brilliant pattern, with other symptoms of an approaching meal. At this table was seated Uncle Tom, Mr. Shelby’s best hand, who, as he is to be the hero of our story, we must daguerreotype for our readers. He was a large, broad-chested, powerfully made man, of a full glossy black, and a face whose truly African features were characterized by an expression of grave and steady good sense, united with much kindliness and benevolence. There was something about his whole air self-respecting and dignified, yet united with a confiding and humble simplicity.

He was very busily intent at this moment on a slate lying before him, on which he was carefully and slowly endeavoring to accomplish a copy of some letters, in which operation he was overlooked by young Mas’r (p.101) George, a smart, bright boy of thirteen, who appeared fully to realize the dignity of his position as instructor.

“Not that way, Uncle Tom,—not that way,” said he, briskly, as Uncle Tom laboriously brought up the tail of his g the wrong side out; “that makes a q, you see.”

“La sakes, now, does it?” said Uncle Tom, looking with a respectful, admiring air, as his young teacher flourishingly scrawled q’s and g’s innumerable for his edification; and then, taking the pencil in his big, heavy fingers, he patiently recommenced.

“How easy white folks al’us does things!” said Aunt Chloe, pausing while she was greasing a griddle with a scrap of bacon on her fork, and regarding young Master George with pride. “The way he can write, now! and read, too! and then to come out here evenings and read his lessons to us,—it’s mighty interestin’!”

“But, Aunt Chloe, I’m getting mighty hungry,” said George. “Isn’t that cake in the skillet almost done?”

“Mose done, Mas’r George,” said Aunt Chloe, lifting the lid and peeping in,—“browning beautiful—a real lovely brown. Ah! let me alone for dat. Missis let Sally try to make some cake, t’ other day, jes to larn her, she said. ‘Oh, go way, Missis,’ says I; ‘it really hurts my feelin’s, now, to see good vittles spiled dat ar way! Cake ris all to one side—no shape at all; no more than my shoe;—go way!”

And with this final expression of contempt for Sally’s greenness, Aunt Chloe whipped the cover off the bake-kettle, and disclosed to view a neatly baked pound-cake, of which no city confectioner need to have been ashamed. This being evidently the central point of the entertainment, Aunt Chloe began now to bustle about earnestly in the supper department.

“Here you, Mose and Pete! get out de way, you niggers! Get away, Polly, honey,—mammy’ll give her baby somefin, by and by. Now, Mas’r George, you jest take off dem books, and set down now with my old man, and I’ll take up de sausages, and have de first griddle full of cakes on your plates in less dan no time.”

“They wanted me to come to supper in the house,” said George; “but I knew what was what too well for that, Aunt Chloe.”

Source: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly (Boston: John P. Jewett, 1852; repr., Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1962). (p.102)

Home, Civilization, and Citizenship

Figure 3.1. Game cards from the Game of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (V. S. W. Parkhurst, Providence, 1852; courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society) depict Uncle Tom, Aunt Chloe, and their two sons. Note that Uncle Tom’s humble but respectable domesticity is suggested by the inclusion of his cabin. The game itself underscores the ways in which slavery disrupted the home lives of both black and white southerners. The specific rules of play are difficult to follow, but players are instructed to “ascertain what family would be most pleasing to complete.” Families, enslaved and free, are united and divided throughout the play of the game.


Home, Civilization, and Citizenship

Figure 3.2. “Happy Family,” from Clinton B. Fisk, Plain Counsel for the Freedmen (1866; Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-86365) was intended to offer newly emancipated slaves a vision of freedom: “Heretofore, you have had no opportunity to provide homes for yourselves and families…. But all that is now changed…. No one can make you move away. You need not ask permission to live and die there. You command the situation.” This image clearly reflects Fisk’s advice to “make your homes as pretty as possible. A little paint, a little whitewash, a few yards of paper, some gravel walks and a few flowers, make all the difference in the world in the appearance of homes.” Compare this illustration with those in chapter 1 as well as the accounts of slave dwellings. How realistic was this image at the time it was published?

(p.104) Everything of Beauty and Daintiness Had Disappeared with the Rude Uprooting of the African Home

Nearly forty years after Clinton Fisk offered his advice to freedmen, W. E. B. Du Bois considered “the problem of housing the Negro.” Published in 1901, this article uses the tools and insights of the latest sociology to interpret the impact of slave housing on the domestic lives of African Americans. In it, Du Bois considers the consequences of the spatial separation of slaves and masters and of house slaves and those who lived in the “quarters.” In many respects, Du Bois’s analysis echoes contemporary accounts of other Progressive reformers investigating the geographic segmentation and social stratification of turn-of-the-century cities. Slavery, poor housing, and social isolation denied African Americans the good habits and training needed to create proper homes. Unlike the southern planters who hoped well-designed slave cabins would produce moral and well-behaved slaves, Du Bois emphasizes the connections between home and the skills required of free men and women.

Commercial slavery, which looked upon the slave primarily as an investment, meant death to the Negro home. One of the first signs of the changed condition of things was perhaps the “Detached Group” as I shall designate the second type of slave homes. The “Detached Group” was the group of slave cabins without a Big House—i.e. removed from the direct eye of the master, either to a far part of the same plantation or to a different plantation. The Big House has turned to brick, with imposing proportions, surrounding trees and gardens and a certain state and elegance with which the old South was flavored. The house servants are now either lodged in the Big House or in trim cabins near. The mass of the slaves are down at the “quarters” by themselves, under the direct eye of the overseer. This change was slight in appearance but of great importance; it widened the distance between the top and bottom of the social ladder, it placed a third party between master and slave and it removed the worst side of the slave hierarchy far from the eyes of its better self.

At first thought it might seem an advantage to remove thus the extremes of society from each other. Nineteenth century experience has, however, taught us better. It not only deprives the helpless of their sole source of help, but among the lowest orders themselves it strengthens (p.105) the hands of the worst element. Thieving, sexual looseness and debauchery could now be spread among the slave cabins by the act of the Negroes themselves far faster than occasional visits of the mistress could counteract the evil. The Negro home, deprived of nearly every method of self-protection, received here its deadliest hurt, from which it has not yet recovered.

From the “Detached Group” to “Absentee Landlordism” was but a step. The rich lands to the southwest, the high price of cotton, and the rapidly increasing internal slave trade, was the beginning of a system of commercial slavery in the gulf states which will ever remain a disgraceful chapter in American history. In its worst phase there was no Big House and cultivated master, only an unscrupulous, paid overseer, lawless and almost irresponsible if he only made crops large enough. The homes of the field-hands were filthy hovels where they slept. There was no family life, no meals, no marriages, no decency, only an endless round of toil and a wild debauch at Christmas time. In the forests of Louisiana, the bottoms of Mississippi, and the Sea Islands of Georgia, where the Negro slave sank lowest in oppression and helplessness, the Negro home practically disappeared, and the house was simply rude, inadequate shelter.

But whither went the Big House, when so entirely separated from the slave quarters? It moved to town and with it moved the house-servants. These privileged slaves were trained and refined from contact with the masters; they were often allowed to accumulate a peculium; they were in some cases freed and gained considerable property, holding it in some friendly white man’s name. Their home life improved and although it was far from ideal, yet it was probably as good as that of the Northern workingman, with some manifest differences; sexual looseness was the weakest point, arising from subordination to the whites and the lessons learned therefrom by the servants themselves. They lived often in small one-or two-room homes behind the masters’ mansions, reached by alleys—a method which has since left the peculiar alley problem in Southern cities. Some of the slaves and the freedmen lived in a Negro quarter by themselves, although the distinctive Negro quarter of towns is largely post-bellum.

Thus we have in slavery times, among other tendencies and many exceptions, three fairly distinct types of Negro homes: the patriarchal (p.106) type, found at its best in Virginia, where the housing of the field hands might be compared with that of the poorer of the Northern workingmen; the separate group and absentee type where the slaves had practically no homes and no family life; and the town group where the few house-servants were fairly well housed. In discussing slavery and incidents connected with it these varying circumstances are continually lost sight of. Nowhere are they portrayed with more truth and sanity than in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and yet to this day there are unbalanced minds that, having known personally only the Shelbys or the St. Clairs, refuse absolutely to believe in the reality of Legree.

The house of the slave, which I have sought to show in its various relationships and degrees of squalor, had certain general characteristics which we must notice carefully. First, there was the lack of comfort; the African knew nothing of the little niceties and comforts of the civilized home—everything of beauty and daintiness had disappeared with the rude uprooting of the African home, and little had been learned to replace them. Thus, even to this day, there is a curious bareness and roughness in the ordinary Negro home, the remains of an uncouthness which in slavery times made the home anything but a pleasant lovable place. There were, for instance, few chairs with backs, no sheets on the beds, no books, no newspapers, no closets or out-houses, no bed-rooms, no table-cloths and very few dishes, no carpets and usually no floors, no windows, no pictures, no clocks, no lights at night save that of the fire-place, little or nothing save bare rough shelter.

Secondly, and closely connected with the first, was the lack of hygienic customs: every nation has its habits and customs, handed down from elders, which have enabled the race to survive. But the continuity of Negro family tradition had been broken and the traditions of the white environment never learned; then too the rules and exactions of the plantation favored unhealthy habits; there ensued a disgusting lack of personal cleanliness, bad habits of eating and sleeping, habits of breathing bad air, of wearing inadequate clothing—all such changes and abuses in everyday life for which the world’s grandchildren must eventually pay.

Thirdly, there was in the slave home necessarily almost an entire lack of thrift, or the ordinary incentives to thrift. The food and fuel were certain and extra faithfulness or saving could make little or no difference. On the other hand, cunning and thieving could secure many a (p.107)

Home, Civilization, and CitizenshipHome, Civilization, and Citizenship

Figures 3.3 and 3.4. These photographs of an African American man giving a piano lesson to a young African American woman, 1899 or 1900, and of the home of C. C. Dodson, Knoxville, Tennessee, c. 1899 (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-ppmsca-08779 and LC-USZ62-49479, respectively) were part of the Georgia Negro Exhibit compiled by W. E. B. Du Bois for the 1900 Paris Exposition. Included in a larger exhibit documenting the history and present circumstances of African Americans, the photographs were intended to capture the progress made since emancipation. Despite Du Bois’s concerns about slavery’s impact on black domesticity, these images suggest a high level of refinement among the black elite. The exposition judges awarded Du Bois a gold medal for his contribution.

(p.108) forbidden knick-knack, far more than honest cultivation of the little garden spot which each family often had. The thriftiest slave could only look forward to slavery for himself and children.

Fourthly, there was the absence of the father—that is, the lack of authority in the slave father to govern or protect his family. His wife could be made his master’s concubine, his daughter could be outraged, his son whipped, or he himself sold away without his being able to protest or lift a preventing finger. Naturally, his authority in his own house was simply such as could rest upon brute force alone, and he easily sank to a position of male guest in the house, without respect or responsibility.

Fifthly, and correlated to the last, was the absence of the mother. The slave mother could spend little or no time at home. She was either a field-hand or a house-servant, and her children had little care or attention. There was consequently in the family no feeling of unity or permanence; it was a temporary, almost fortuitous agglomeration of atoms—it was not an organism, and it had neither force nor pride.

Such was the home and the family which slavery bequeathed to freedom.

Source: W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Problem of Housing the Negro: The Home of the Slave,” Southern Workman 30 (1901): 486–495.

Separate and Apart from Any Tribe of Indians Therein

Sponsored by Representative Henry Dawes of Massachusetts in 1887, the General Allotment Act (known also as the Dawes Severalty Act) was intended to encourage the breakup of tribal lands in order to “civilize” Indians and ease their assimilation into the U.S. cultural mainstream. Each head of a family would receive 160 acres of land (or 320 acres of grazing land), which could not be sold for twenty-five years. At that time, the Indians would receive full title to the land and become American citizens. Many white reformers called the legislation the “Indian Emancipation Act.” Committed to their faith in the transformative power of homeownership, they failed to foresee the hardships of farming and the threat of predatory white settlers for whom homes and land were commodities as much as tools of civilization. Between 1887 and the act’s repeal in 1934, ninety million acres of Indian land were lost to non-Indian ownership.

(p.109) An Act to provide for the allotment of lands in severalty to Indians on the various reservations, and to extend the protection of the laws of the United States and the Territories over the Indians, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in all cases where any tribe or band of Indians has been, or shall hereafter be, located upon any reservation created for their use, either by treaty stipulation or by virtue of an act of Congress or executive order setting apart the same for their use, the President of the United States be, and he hereby is, authorized, whenever in his opinion any reservation or any part thereof of such Indians is advantageous for agricultural and grazing purposes, to cause said reservation, or any part thereof, to be surveyed, or resurveyed if necessary, and to allot the lands in said reservation in severalty to any Indian located thereon in quantities as follows:

To each head of a family, one-quarter of a section;

To each single person over eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section;

To each orphan child under eighteen years of age, one-eighth of a section; and

To each other single person under eighteen years now living, or who may be born prior to the date of the order of the President directing an allotment of the lands embraced in any reservation, one-sixteenth of a section: Provided, That in case there is not sufficient land in any of said reservations to allot lands to each individual of the classes above named in quantities as above provided, the lands embraced in such reservation or reservations shall be allotted to each individual of each of said classes pro rata in accordance with the provisions of this act: And provided further, That where the treaty or act of Congress setting apart such reservation provides for the allotment of lands in severalty in quantities in excess of those herein provided, the President, in making allotments upon such reservation, shall allot the lands to each individual Indian belonging thereon in quantity as specified in such treaty or act: And provided further, That when the lands allotted are only valuable for grazing purposes, an additional allotment of such grazing lands, in quantities as above provided, shall be made to each individual.

(p.110) Sec. 2. That all allotments set apart under the provisions of this act shall be selected by the Indians, heads of families selecting for their minor children, and the agents shall select for each orphan child, and in such manner as to embrace the improvements of the Indians making the selection. Where the improvements of two or more Indians have been made on the same legal subdivision of land, unless they shall otherwise agree, a provisional line may be run dividing said lands between them, and the amount to which each is entitled shall be equalized in the assignment of the remainder of the land to which they are entitled under this act: Provided, That if any one entitled to an allotment shall fail to make a selection within four years after the President shall direct that allotments may be made on a particular reservation, the Secretary of the Interior may direct the agent of such tribe or band, if such there be, and if there be no agent, then a special agent appointed for that purpose, to make a selection for such Indian, which election shall be allotted as in cases where selections are made by the Indians, and patents shall issue in like manner.

Sec. 3. That the allotments provided for in this act shall be made by special agents appointed by the President for such purpose, and the agents in charge of the respective reservations on which the allotments are directed to be made, under such rules and regulations as the Secretary of the Interior may from time to time prescribe, and shall be certified by such agents to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in duplicate, one copy to be retained in the Indian Office and the order to be transmitted to the Secretary of the Interior for his action, and to be deposited in the General Land Office.

Sec. 4. That where any Indian not residing upon a reservation, or for whose tribe no reservation has been provided by treaty, act of Congress, or executive order, shall make settlement upon any surveyed or unsurveyed lands of the United States not otherwise appropriated, he or she shall be entitled, upon application to the local land-office for the district in which the lands are located, to have the same allotted to him or her, and to his or her children, in quantities and manner as provided in this act for Indians residing upon reservations; and when such settlement is made upon unsurveyed lands, the grant to such Indians shall be adjusted upon the survey of the lands so as to conform thereto; and patents shall be issued to them for such lands in the manner and with the restrictions as herein provided. And the fees to which the officers of such (p.111) local land-office would have been entitled had such lands been entered under the general laws for the disposition of the public lands shall be paid to them, from any moneys in the Treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated, upon a statement of an account in their behalf for such fees by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, and a certification of such account to the Secretary of the Treasury by the Secretary of the Interior.

Sec. 5. That upon the approval of the allotments provided for in this act by the Secretary of the Interior, he shall cause patents to issue therefor in the name of the allottees, which patents shall be of the legal effect, and declare that the United States does and will hold the land thus allotted, for the period of twenty-five years, in trust for the sole use and benefit of the Indian to whom such allotment shall have been made, or, in case of his decease, of his heirs according to the laws of the State or Territory where such land is located, and that at the expiration of said period the United States will convey the same by patent to said Indian, or his heirs as aforesaid, in fee, discharged of said trust and free of all charge or incumbrance whatsoever: Provided, That the President of the United States may in any case in his discretion extend the period. And if any conveyance shall be made of the lands set apart and allotted as herein provided, or any contract made touching the same, before the expiration of the time above mentioned, such conveyance or contract shall be absolutely null and void: Provided, That the law of descent and partition in force in the State or Territory where such lands are situate shall apply thereto after patents therefor have been executed and delivered, except as herein otherwise provided; and the laws of the State of Kansas regulating the descent and partition of real estate shall, so far as practicable, apply to all lands in the Indian Territory which may be allotted in severalty under the provisions of this act: And provided further, That at any time after lands have been allotted to all the Indians of any tribe as herein provided, or sooner if in the opinion of the President it shall be for the best interests of said tribe, it shall be lawful for the Secretary of the Interior to negotiate with such Indian tribe for the purchase and release by said tribe, in conformity with the treaty or statute under which such reservation is held, of such portions of its reservation not allotted as such tribe shall, from time to time, consent to sell, on such terms and conditions as shall be considered just and equitable between the United (p.112) States and said tribe of Indians, which purchase shall not be complete until ratified by Congress, and the form and manner of executing such release shall also be prescribed by Congress: Provided however, That all lands adapted to agriculture, with or without irrigation so sold or released to the United States by any Indian tribe shall be held by the United States for the sole purpose of securing homes to actual settlers and shall be disposed of by the United States to actual and bona fide settlers only in tracts not exceeding one hundred and sixty acres to any one person, on such terms as Congress shall prescribe, subject to grants which Congress may make in aid of education: And provided further, That no patents shall issue therefor except to the person so taking the same as and for a homestead, or his heirs, and after the expiration of five years occupancy thereof as such homestead; and any conveyance of said lands so taken as a homestead, or any contract touching the same, or lien thereon, created prior to the date of such patent, shall be null and void. And the sums agreed to be paid by the United States as purchase money for any portion of any such reservation shall be held in the Treasury of the United States for the sole use of the tribe or tribes of Indians; to whom such reservations belonged; and the same, with interest thereon at three per cent per annum, shall be at all times subject to appropriation by Congress for the education and civilization of such tribe or tribes of Indians or the members thereof. The patents aforesaid shall be recorded in the General Land Office, and afterward delivered, free of charge, to the allottee entitled thereto. And if any religious society or other organization is now occupying any of the public lands to which this act is applicable, for religious or educational work among the Indians, the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to confirm such occupation to such society or organization, in quantity not exceeding one hundred and sixty acres in any one tract, so long as the same shall be so occupied, on such terms as he shall deem just; but nothing herein contained shall change or alter any claim of such society for religious or educational purposes heretofore granted by law. And hereafter in the employment of Indian police, or any other employees in the public service among any of the Indian tribes or bands affected by this act, and where Indians can perform the duties required, those Indians who have availed themselves of the provisions of this act and become citizens of the United States shall be preferred. (p.113)

Home, Civilization, and Citizenship

Figure 3.5. A model Indian cottage at Hampton Institute in Virginia from Alice C. Fletcher, Historical Sketch of the Omaha Tribe of Indians (Washington, DC: Judd & Detweiler, 1885) illustrates the ideal of domesticity that the Dawes Act was intended to foster. Fletcher’s ethnological study documented the tribe’s traditional practices of farming and holding property. Over time, the Omaha incorporated “the advantages of civilization,” building frame and log houses and adopting modern agricultural tools. Some left Nebraska to study at schools such as Hampton Institute, where model cottages “accustomed them to the refinements of life.” Fletcher’s work helped persuade Congress to allot the Omaha’s lands in severalty to the tribe, and Fletcher herself oversaw the process from 1882 to 1884. A supporter of the Dawes Act, she was appointed a special allotting agent by the United States in 1887.

Sec. 6. That upon the completion of said allotments and the patenting of the lands to said allottees, each and every member of the respective bands or tribes of Indians to whom allotments have been made shall have the benefit of and be subject to the laws, both civil and criminal, of the State or Territory in which they may reside; and no Territory shall pass or enforce any law denying any such Indian within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. And every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States to whom allotments shall have been made under the provisions of this act, or under any law or treaty, and every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States who has voluntarily taken up, within said limits, his residence separate and apart from any tribe of Indians therein, and has adopted the habits of civilized life, is hereby declared to be a citizen of the United States, and (p.114) is entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities of such citizens, whether said Indian has been or not, by birth or otherwise, a member of any tribe of Indians within the territorial limits of the United States without in any manner impairing or otherwise affecting the right of any such Indian to tribal or other property….

Approved, February 8, 1887.

Source: Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, United States Statutes at Large (49th Cong., 2nd sess., chap. 119, pp. 388–391).

Living in a Frame House and Learning Very Fast How to Transact Business like White People

Supporters of the Dawes Severalty Act shared the Victorian belief that the right household arrangements would foster proper values and the reformers’ faith that improved domestic circumstances could instill good habits and create American citizens. This article by Susan La Flesche suggests the complexities and contradictions of the “civilizing process” from one who experienced them firsthand. La Flesche was born on the Omaha reservation in 1865 and eventually attended Hampton Institute before earning a medical degree from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia. The first Native American woman to earn a medical degree, she worked as a physician among the Omaha. Here she celebrates the progress made by her people while trying to differentiate changes in external domestic arrangements from an alteration in the nature of “home life.”

The home life of the Indian of to-day is essentially the same as the home life of the Indian of thirty years ago. Any progress he may have made is due to the change of environment, produced by the coming of white people, and the consequent passing away of old customs.

The daily routine of home life is the same, the aforesaid change produced by environment being shown by the fact that in place of the tepee the Indian once occupied, he now lives in a frame house and can boast of a well, a stable, a few fruit trees and a vegetable garden. The fact that in place of hunting wild game over the prairies, he now farms and raises good crops of corn, wheat, and oats makes but little difference in the internal workings of the home.

(p.115) Long ago the Indian had a removable house suited to his requirements, a tepee or tent which was made of buckskin or canvas stretched over a pyramid formed by means of poles tied together at the top with buckskin, a house easy to carry around with him in his nomadic journeyings.

When the tribe found a place where they could settle down and live eight months in the year they built mud lodges as their permanent residences. These are dome-shaped, the frame work consisting of poles, willow branches and rushes, and from base to apex it is covered with sod several inches thick. They have wide entrance ways, several feet long and high enough to permit a tall person to stand upright. They are like tunnels leading into the lodge which is circular in form. Light and air enter by means of a large circular opening in the top of the dome, this also serving as a means of exit for the smoke. The lodge is well ventilated—warm in winter and cool in summer. Several families live in them at a time, and the only two or three now left on this reservation are used for holding councils, public gatherings and dances, as they can accommodate over a hundred people.

How often as children we used to climb upon these lodges and pick the sunflowers and grasses growing on them. Near sunset the old men would sit up on these lodges where they could pursue their meditations undisturbed and alone, and I remember looking at them reverently as I played around with the other children, for I regarded them with a great deal of awe, for to me they seemed so wise.

Trodden by hundreds of feet the earthen floor is almost as hard as stone, and coming in from the hot dusty road how gratefully cool it felt to our little bare feet as we played in and out, riding our make-believe horses made of sun flower stalks. In the centre is a little hollow where the fire is built and all the cooking is done. Around this place we used to gather to listen to thrilling stories of battles with the dreaded Sioux, buffalo hunts and ghost stories. When it came to the last I used to look up fearfully at the opening above, for fear I should see a dog looking down, for it is a superstition among the Indians that if a dog looks down through this opening into the lodge some one of the company is sure to die soon. If such a thing happened the dog was killed immediately. It was always a relief to see the blue sky and stars looking down.

(p.116) After a while the Indians built log houses of only one room the roof covered with turf.

Now, on this reservation we have almost every family living in a neat frame house, one story or one story and a half high, wainscoted, plastered or papered inside; very clean and neatly painted outside. The premises are clear of rubbish.

These houses are built by the Indians with their own money, but the desire to own such houses was started several years ago when the “Connecticut Home-Building Fund” started the Home-Building Department of the Women’s National Indian Association. The seed then sown has borne fruit here and elsewhere. Whether you enter with me into a tent, a mud-lodge or log house, or one of these neat frame houses you would see the same home-life going on in every one of them.

There is little variation, one day of the week being almost the same as another.

The family usually arise early—in the summer about sunrise, but in winter the breakfast is usually considerably delayed, for they follow sun-time. In most cases the hostess arises and builds the fire, gets the water and cooks the simple meal. Very few have had bread, but it is now getting to be the general rule in many families to make light bread. They have biscuits made with soda or baking powder, and sometimes “fried cakes,” light brown in color and very appetizing. Coffee, sometimes fresh beef, for, in this country where there are thousands of head of cattle it is hard to get beef; sometimes fruit, dried, and in the summer potatoes and beans. You can see that their diet is very simple. The food is divided and put on plates, the coffee poured out into cups and then the food is handed around to each individual. Usually after the meal is over the dishes are put away in a little cupboard. If it is summer the husband and men in the family go out to their work and the wife cleans up the house and begins to get the noon-meal. It is the same at breakfast. They do not do very much sewing for their clothes are simply and quickly made. The houses on the reservation are far apart and the women cannot very well pass away the time by gossip with the neighbors, as some of our white friends have the privilege of doing. What a deprivation is this! Let us all be thankful for our privileges.

The evening meal is simple, and the time between that and the retiring hour is spent in talking over the events of the day or in telling news. (p.117) We have no telegraph lines or telephones, but news has a wonderfully quick way of travelling from one house to another. Rumors on a reservation are the same as rumors anywhere else. When they reach the end of their journey they have received quite an addition, and a wise person will credit only one third of the story as truth.

There are no books, pictures or recreations save the dances, and no games except cards which are used for gambling. A narrow life in some respects. The Indians are passionately fond of their children, having no books, pictures or recreations in their home life they lavish all attention on their children. There are some cases where the step-father or step-mother, as the case may be, makes no difference whatever between their children and the step-children. They show their affection for their children also.

Some ask the absurd question, “Do the Indians really love their wives?” The Indians are human beings just as the white people are, and there are Indian men who are just as careful, watchful and affectionate to their wives as any one would wish to see anywhere. They do not make an outward show of their affection, but I know from personal observation that they are truly devoted to each other. One day I had to pull a young woman’s tooth, and as the husband was a strong muscular man I was in hopes he would support her head for me. He sent for his brother to do it and when he saw me take the forceps up he beat a hasty retreat. I heard him walking up and down in the other room, and when they told him I was through he appeared with such a happy relieved look on his face and thanked me so earnestly. I could not help but be glad for him that she was through with her suffering. There are many instances like this that I know of. Of course, there are some cases entirely different, and where there is no happiness. But so we find it wherever we go in the world.

Indian women no longer stand in the background. Few work in the fields or do heavy work. Where it used to be the lot of the women to provide the wood, now the men get it in almost all cases. Even in so small a thing as walking or riding where the woman had to walk behind or ride in the back of the wagon, now she walks beside her husband, and in vehicles you see the woman riding beside her husband on the seat.

The old customs are fast disappearing and in place of the Indian of twenty years ago, who lived in a tent and supported himself by hunting (p.118) wild game, we have an independent man who is earning his bread by his own toil, living in a frame house and learning very fast how to transact business like white people. The wife standing beside her husband shows only his true advancement, and the home is happier for this progress.

Source: Susan La Flesche, “The Home-Life of the Indian,” Indian’s Friend 4, no. 10 (1892): 39–40.

They Are, I Know, the Sweet and Pleasant Sunshine of Our Homes

As president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union from 1879 until 1898, Frances Willard made the connections between domestic life, civilization, and citizenship explicit, drawing even more conservative temperance supporters to call for women’s suffrage. In this speech, Willard invokes both the civilizing influence of women’s domestic natures and their vulnerability when confined to homes afflicted by drink. Giving women the ballot would expand domestic uplift into the public world of politics while enabling women to bring the power of law to bear on the saloon and home. In other words, the vote would enable the best of the private and public spheres to cross the domestic threshold for the improvement of both realms. Reflecting this blending, Willard’s speech uses the tools of womanly moral influence (family stories and biblical references) in service of her reform agenda and political goals.

Think of it! There is a class in every one of our communities—in many of them far the most numerous class—which (I speak not vauntingly; I but name it as a fact) has not in all the centuries of wine, beer, and brandy-drinking developed, as a class, an appetite for alcohol, but whose instincts, on the contrary, set so strongly against intoxicants that if the liquor traffic were dependent on their patronage alone, it would collapse this night as though all the nitro-glycerine of Hell Gate reef had exploded under it.

There is a class whose instinct of self-preservation must forever be opposed to a stimulant which nerves, with dangerous strength, arms already so much stronger than their own, and so maddens the brain God meant to guide those arms, that they strike down the wives men love, and the little children for whom, when sober, they would die. The (p.119) wife, largely dependent for the support of herself and little ones upon the brain which strong drink paralyzes, the arm it masters, and the skill it renders futile, will in the nature of the case, prove herself unfriendly to the actual or potential source of so much misery. But besides this primal instinct of self-preservation, we have, in the same class of which I speak, another far more high and sacred—I mean the instinct of a mother’s love, a wife’s devotion, a sister’s faithfulness, a daughter’s loyalty. And now I ask you to consider earnestly the fact that none of these blessed rays of light and power from woman’s heart, are as yet brought to bear upon the rum-shop at the focus of power. They are, I know, the sweet and pleasant sunshine of our homes; they are the beams which light the larger home of social life and send their gentle radiance out even into the great and busy world. But I know, and as the knowledge has grown clearer, my heart was thrilled with gratitude and hope too deep for words, that in a republic all these now divergent beams of light can, through the magic lens, that powerful sun-glass which we name the ballot, be made to converge upon the rum-shop in a blaze of light that shall reveal its full abominations, and a white flame of heat, which, like a pitiless moxa, shall burn this cancerous excrescence from America’s fair form. Yes, for there is nothing in the universe so sure, so strong, as love; and love shall do all this—love of maid for sweetheart, wife for husband, or a sister for her brother, of a mother for her son. And I call upon you who are here to-day, good men and brave—you who have welcomed us to other fields in the great fight of the angel against the dragon in society—I call upon you thus to match force with force, to set over against the liquor-dealer’s avarice our instinct of self-preservation; and to match the drinker’s love of liquor with our love of him! When you can centre all this power in that small bit of paper which falls

  • “As silently as snow-flakes fall upon the sod,
  • But executes a freeman’s will as lightnings do the will of God,”

the rum power will be as much doomed as was the slave power when you gave the ballot to the slaves.

In our argument it has been claimed that by the changeless instincts of her nature and through the most sacred relationships of which that (p.120) nature has been rendered capable, God has indicated woman, who is the born conservator of home, to be the Nemesis of home’s arch enemy, King Alcohol. And further, that in a republic, this power of hers may be most effectively exercised by giving her a voice in the decision by which the rum-shop door shall be opened or closed beside her home….

Nothing worse can ever happen to women at the polls than has been endured by the hour on the part of conservative women of the churches in this land, as they, in scores of towns, have plead with rough, half-drunken men to vote temperance tickets they have handed them, and which, with vastly more of propriety and fitness they might have dropped into the box themselves. They could have done this in a moment, and returned to their homes, instead of spending the whole day in the often futile endeavor to beg from men like these the vote which would preserve their homes from the whisky serpent’s breath for one uncertain year. I spent last May in Ohio, traveling constantly, and seeking on every side to learn the views of the noble women of the Crusade. They put their opinions in words like these: “We believe that as God led us into this work by way of the saloons,


We have never prayed more earnestly over the one than we will over the other. One was the Wilderness, the other is the Promised Land.” …

Longer ago than I shall tell, my father returned one night to the far-off Wisconsin home where I was reared; and, sitting by my mother’s chair, with a child’s attentive ear, I listened to their words. He told us of the news that day had brought about Neal Dow and the great fight for prohibition down in Maine, and then he said: “I wonder if poor, rum-cursed Wisconsin will ever get a law like that?” And mother rocked a while in silence in the dear old chair I love, and then she gently said:


(p.121) My father had never heard her say so much before. He was a great conservative; so he looked tremendously astonished, and replied, in his keen, sarcastic voice: “And pray how will you arrange it so that women shall vote?” Mother’s chair went to and fro a little faster for a minute, and then, looking not into his face, but into the flickering flames of the grate, she slowly answered: “Well, I say to you, as the apostle Paul said to his jailor, ‘You have put us into prison, we being Romans, and you must come and take us out.’”

That was a seed-thought in a girl’s brain and heart. Years passed on, in which nothing more was said upon this dangerous theme. My brother grew to manhood, and soon after he was twenty-one years old he went with his father to vote. Standing by the window, a girl of sixteen years, a girl of simple, homely fancies, not at all strong-minded, and altogether ignorant of the world, I looked out as they drove away, my father and my brother, and as I looked I felt a strange ache in my heart, and tears sprang to my eyes. Turning to my sister Mary, who stood beside me, I saw that the dear little innocent seemed wonderfully sober, too. I said: “Don’t you wish we could go with them when we are old enough? Don’t we love our country just as well as they do?” and her little frightened voice piped out: “Yes, of course we ought. Don’t I know that? But you mustn’t tell a soul—not mother, even; we should be called strong-minded.”

In all the years since then I have kept these things, and many others like them, and pondered them in my heart….

I thought that women ought to have the ballot as I paid the hard-earned taxes upon my mother’s cottage home—but I never said as much—somehow the motive did not command my heart. For my own sake, I had not courage, but I have for thy sake, dear native land, for thy necessity is as much greater than mine as thy transcend[e]nt hope is greater than the personal interest of thy humble child. For love of you, heart-broken wives, whose tremulous lips have blessed me; for love of you, sweet mothers, who, in the cradle’s shadow, kneel this night beside your infant sons, and you, sorrowful little children, who listen at this hour, with faces strangely old, for him whose footsteps frighten you; for love of you have I thus spoken.

Source: Frances E. Willard, “My First Home Protection Address,” in Woman and Temperance; or, The Work and Workers of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (Hartford, CT: James Betts, 1883). The speech itself was first delivered in 1876.

(p.122) The Real Want Was Proper Home and Moral Training

In this early essay, journalist and antilynching reformer Ida B. Wells imagines looking back on the career of a middle-class African American teacher. Wells herself worked as a teacher in the 1880s, and it is likely that this essay reflects her own experiences and frustrations. Like Du Bois, Wells here notes the lack of “proper” homes among her African American students and links domestic improvements to racial progress. Realizing that formal education alone is inadequate to the task of racial uplift, the teacher turns her classroom into a setting for conveying moral lessons that would ideally be learned at home. Later, she visits the homes of her students to instruct their parents in the practices and values of a respectable and Christian home. How do the actions of Wells’s teacher compare with those of the friendly visitors mentioned in chapter 2? Does the context of racial uplift make a difference in how you view them?

Twenty years ago a young girl went from one of the many colleges of our Southland to teach among her people. While she taught for a livelihood she performed her duty conscientiously with a desire to carry the light of education to those who dwelt in darkness, by faithfully instructing her charge[s] in their text-books and grounding them firmly in the rudiments. She was born, reared and educated in the South, consequently the sentiments regarding, and the treatment of, the Negro were not unknown to her. Justice compelled her to acknowledge sadly that his moral and temporal status had not kept pace with the intellectual, and while reluctantly admitting this fact that was so often so exultantly and contemptuously cited against him she wondered if there were no remedy for a state of things that she knew was not irremediable. Since it had been amply proven that education alone would not be the salvation of the race, that his religion generally, was wholly emotional and had no bearing on his everyday life she thought that if the many ministers of the gospel, public and professional men of the race would exert their influence specifically—by precept and example—that they might do much to erase the stigma from the name. She never thought of the opportunities she possessed to mould high moral characters by—as the Episcopalians do their religion—instilling elevated thoughts, race pride and ambition with their daily lessons. One day a gentleman visited (p.123) the school and mentioned a promising youth, 18 years old, who had attended that school, as being sentenced to the penitentiary the day before for three years for stealing a suit of clothes; he concluded his recital by sorrowfully saying: “That’s all our boys go to school for, they get enough education to send them to the penitentiary and the girls do worse.” It flashed on her while he was talking that the real want was proper home and moral training combined with mental, that would avert a too frequent repetition of this sad case and that the duty of Negro teachers was to supplement this lack, as none had greater opportunities. There came over her, such a desire to make the case in point an impressive lesson that school-work was suspended while she related the story and for half an hour earnestly exhorted them to cultivate honest, moral habits, to lay a foundation for a noble character that would convince the world that worth and not color made the man. From that time forth, whenever a case in point came up, she would tell them to illustrate that the way of the transgressor is hard; also that every such case only helped to confirm the discreditable opinion already entertained for the Negro. These casual earnest talks made a deep impression, her pupils became thoughtful and earnest, a deeper meaning was given to study; school-life began to be viewed in a new light; as a means to an end; they learned, through her, that there was a work out in the world waiting for them to come and take hold, and these lessons sunk deep in their minds.

Their quiet deportment and manly independence as they grew older was noticeable. This teacher who had just awakened to a true sense of her mission did not stop here; she visited the homes, those where squalor and moral uncleannes[s] walked hand in hand with poverty, as well as the better ones and talked earnestly with the parents on these themes, of laboring to be self-respecting so they might be respected; of a practical Christianity; of setting a pure example in cleanliness and morals before their children. Before, she viewed their sins with loathing and disgust; now she was animated by a lofty purpose and earnest aim and the Son of Righteousness sustained her. She spent her life in the school-room and one visiting the communities to-day in which she labored will say when observing the intelligent happy homes and families, the advanced state of moral and temporal elevation of her one time pupils—that she has not lived in vain, that the world is infinitely better for her having in one corner of the earth endeavored to make it bloom with (p.124) wheat, useful grain or beautiful flowers instead of allowing cruel thorns, or rank and poisonous thistles to flourish unmolested.

Some may ask, why we have been thus premature in recording a history of twenty years hence. The answer is short and simple that the many teachers of the race may not be content simply to earn a salary, but may also use their opportunity and influence. Finally gentle reader that you and I “may go and do likewise.”

Source: Ida B. Wells, “A Story of 1900,” Fisk Herald, April 1886.

To Fearlessly Assert Their Claims to an Equality Which Is Not Measured by Dollars and Cents

When Catharine Maria Sedgwick imagined the domestic life of the “rich poor man” in 1837 (see chapter 2), she described a respectable working-class home that mimicked the morality of its middle-class counterpart. Although a site of labor, the working-class home was also a place to seek comfort and learn moral lessons. Here the labor leader William Sylvis rejects such romantic portrayals of “the poor man’s home,” instead emphasizing that poverty makes it impossible for the working man to enjoy the pleasures of domesticity, even transforming parenthood into a “calamity.” Without sentimentality, Sylvis shows that the homes of rich and poor are divided by their ability to consume and connected by labor, as poor women take on the domestic tasks of elite wives. Only trade unionism and a manly wage will elevate the working-class home by freeing the working man’s wife from paid and unpaid labor and supporting some domestic comforts.

Poets and essayists have sung and written a great deal about the beauty and simplicity of the poor man’s home, and theorists have employed the aid of art to prove that contentment and poverty are inseparable; but “The Cotter’s Saturday Night,” “The Village Blacksmith,” “The Flat-Boat,” etc., as illustrations are far more welcome to the rich man’s parlor than would be the living realities which they represent. The whitewashed cottage, the clean-swept hearth, the creeping vines, the fresh-budding flowers, and “the moss-covered bucket,” afford themes for highly-colored pictures of humble life, which never fail to captivate romantic misses and sentimental young men, whose ideas of “love in a cottage” form a (p.125) part of their youthful dreams. Those who enjoy wealth and luxury too often derive their impressions from the artist’s pencil or the fine-spun theories of magazine writers, and settle down in the belief that the poor are exempt from many cares incident to riches, and that it’s “all moonshine” to prate of the distress and privations of the toiling poor. This outside view of poverty is very apt to satisfy the conscience, and shut out from the heart those feelings of charity which make us “feel each other’s woes.”

But there is an inside view of poverty which the true Christian and philanthropist will sometimes pause to gaze upon. The smile of cheerful greeting, as wealth passes the door of poverty, is not always an index to sunshine within. The canker gnaws none the less when pride places the “best foot foremost,” and many a weary and worn soul struggles hardest to keep up appearances in the darkest hour of adversity. If the poor man is blessed with a thrifty wife who turns his weekly pittance to the best advantage, his condition, and that of the family, are proportionately benefited; but what can the affluent know of the pinch and stint, the self-denial and privation practised to “make both ends meet”? What one throws away as mere offal, the other dishes up in various ways to tempt the palate; for nothing must be wasted in the poor man’s home. One selects the rib or juicy sirloin, the other must be satisfied with the neck and other cheap pieces; one can have his pick, while the other must be content with the refuse of the market. The toiler must put up with nourishless soups and frequent meatless meals. Deteriorated tea and coffee must suffice, when it can be afforded at all; and, as to clothing, a change of inferior domestic fabrics is all that he can aspire to.

This is the difference between rich and poor, under the best management; but it as often occurs with one as the other, that want of experience, indolence, or incompatibility of temper, proves the curse of the household. Such a condition of things is, indeed, a calamity to the poor. The former can provide against this misfortune by hiring help—but not the latter. With them it sometimes happens that the husband is idle, intemperate, or improvident, and, on the other hand, the wife may be thriftless, slovenly, and wasteful. She may be broken down by excessive labor, or crushed by the despondency of her hopeless condition. Under such circumstances, there is a life-battle with want and suffering, uncheered by one ray of hope—with no prospect of deliverance. No word (p.126) of encouragement is given—no helping hand is extended. They are shunned because they are poor, and proscribed because they show it. Is it any wonder that despair drives many such to vice and crime? for there is nothing before them but hunger and want in the meridian of life, or the almshouse in old age.

But, in the brightest phase of poverty, look at the incident “pull backs” in the shape of lost time, sickness, medicine, doctors’ bills, etc.—perhaps a periodical increase of the family, adding other mouths to be fed, other backs to be clothed. What the rich would consider a blessing, is often a calamity to the poor, in multiplying household care. Let that rich lady, lounging on her cushioned ottoman, perusing the last novel, with her children consigned to servants in the nursery, take a peep at the poor man’s home. She will find the mother laboring at the wash-tub, a baby crying in the rude cradle, another, a little older, tied in a chair, and the next crying for bread, perhaps. That mother may be weak and feeble, working beyond her strength. It may be that she is getting through with the week’s wash of the novel-reading millionaire, and depending upon the hard-earned pittance for necessary comforts. And what if the husband and father should be sick—the body prostrated by racking pain, and the mind frenzied with apprehensions of a starving family? Who shall describe his agony—who can comprehend his misery?

This, reader, is the other side of the picture which has never been looked upon by poets and sensation writers, who cater for the public. But these painters of fancy scenes in poverty are too sensitive to gaze upon the reality; and, besides, it would not comport with their mission, to “draw from nature” or to paint “the living truth.” It would grate too harshly upon the public ear, which needs a sweeter melody; and shock eyes which require all that is unlovely to be veiled from sight. They place the garb of romance around suffering and poverty, and deck the poor man’s home in flowers, while they plant thorns in his pathway, and render him helpless for self-elevation.

There is a hidden purpose, however, in all this flattery bestowed upon humble life. It is designed to make poor men contented with their lot, and to blind them to the necessity of making proper exertions to extricate themselves from the slough of despond into which the odious distinctions of society have plunged them. It would be the height of (p.127) imprudence—the extreme of presumption—on the part of a class whose condition in life is painted in such gaudy colors, to express dissatisfaction, or to make an effort to place themselves higher in the social scale. So contented—what need is there for combinations, trade-unions, strikes, etc.? These scene-painters of the poor have satisfied wealth that it has no duty to perform—that there are no claims upon the rich—and that the preposterous pretensions of the poor are entitled to no consideration. Hence, any attempt on the part of workingmen to ameliorate their condition is met with opposition at the outset, and they are looked upon as a “never-satisfied” class.

But, happily for the cause of labor, its oppressed victims have awakened from their long sleep of lethargy, and begin to fearlessly assert their claims to an equality which is not measured by dollars and cents. They have mounted the car of progress, and are determined to ride until they reach the goal of a new manhood, if they have to seize the ribbons and drive the drivers. Caste, distinctions, prejudice, proscription, must clear the track, or be run down, for they have taken off the brakes. “Upward and onward!” is shouted along the whole line; and the time will soon come, we hope, when the poor man’s home may merit some of the fulsome praise bestowed upon it.

Source: William H. Sylvis, “The Poor Man’s Home,” in The Life, Speeches, Labors and Essays of William H. Sylvis (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, 1872).

Occupied with Real Service to Men and Each Other, How Happily Would They Meet at Night

The reformer and feminist Caroline Dall also looked to paid employment as a means to bring home life into greater alignment with the Victorian domestic ideal. In this excerpt, she argues that women’s paid labor outside the home would enhance domestic harmony, foster shared interest in family life, and redress poverty among the working class. Envisioning work as a source of satisfaction and ambition, here she argues that women of all classes must be given the right to work outside the home. Only the employment of middle-class women will undermine the stigma associated with women’s work and increase the value of working-class women’s labor. How does Dall depict women’s labor, and why does she see it as a right rather than a necessity or a burden? Compare her analysis to that of (p.128) Sylvis. Whose argument do you think would have greater appeal among nineteenth-century working-class women?

In my first lecture, I showed you that women were starving, and that vice is a better paymaster than labor. I showed you the awful falsity of the cry, “Do not let women work: we will work for them. They are too tender, too delicate, to bide the rough usage of the world.” I showed you that they were not only working hard, but had been working at hard and unwholesome work, not merely in this century, but in all centuries since the world began. I showed you how man himself has turned them back, when they have entered a well-paid career. Practically the command of society to the uneducated class is, “Marry, stitch, die, or do worse.”

Plenty of employments are open to them; but all are underpaid. They will never be better paid till women of rank begin to work for money, and so create respect for woman’s labor; and women of rank will never do this till American men feel what all American men profess,—a proper respect for Labor, as God’s own demand upon every human soul,—and so teach American women to feel it. How often have I heard that every woman willing to work may find employment! The terrible reverses of 1837 taught many men in this country that they were “out of luck:” how absurd, then, this statement with regard to women! One reason why so many young women are attracted to the Catholic Church is, that the Catholic Church is a good economist, and does not tolerate an idle member. In Catholic countries,—nay, in Protestant,—the gray hood of the Sister of Charity is as sacred as a crown.

When I think how happy human life might be, if men and women worked freely together, I lose patience. Such marriages as I can dream of,—where, household duties thriftily managed and speedily discharged, the wife assumes some honorable trust, or finds a noble task for her delicate hands; while the husband follows his under separate auspices! Occupied with real service to men and each other, how happily would they meet at night to discuss hours they had lived apart to help each other’s work by each other’s wit, and to draw vital refreshment from the caresses of their children! It is your distrust, O men! That prevents your having such homes as poets fancy. You will not help women to form them. The sturdy pine pushes through the tightest soil, and will grow, though nothing more genial than November sky bid it welcome; but tender (p.129) anemones—wind flowers, as we call them—must be coaxed through the loose loam sifted from thousands of autumn leaves, and tremble to the faintest air. Yet are anemones fairer than pine, and their lovely blossoming a fit reward for Nature’s pains. Follow Nature, and offer the encouragement which those you love best daily need. Do it for your own sakes; for proper employment will diffuse serenity over the anxious faces you are too apt to see. Do not fancy that the conventions of society can ever prevail over the will, it may be the freak, of Nature. That stepdame is absolute. She set Hercules spinning, and sent Joan of Arc to Orleans. She taught Mrs. John Stewart Mill political economy, and Monsieur Malignon netting and lace-work. She enables women to bear immense burdens, heat, cold, and frost; she sets them in the thick of the battle even; while in South Carolina, and in the heart of Africa, or among the Indians of the Rocky Mountains, old men croon over forsaken babes till the milk flows in their withered breasts.

Women want to work for all the reasons that men want it. When they see this, and begin to do it faithfully, you will respect their work, and pay them for it. We are all taught that we are the children of God; only Mohammedans deny their women that rank: yet we are left without duties, as if such a thing were possible,—left without work that offers any adequate end as a stimulus to diligence or ambition; and, until “Work” becomes man’s cry of inspiration, woman will never train herself to do her work well.

It was Margaret Fuller, I think, who wrote of the Polish heroine, the Countess Emily Plater, “She is the figure I want for my frontispiece. Short was her career. Like the Maid of Orleans, she only lived long enough to verify her credentials, and then passed from a scene on which she was probably a premature apparition.” Ah! that is what all women should do,—verify their credentials! “Say what you please,” said a young girl to her lover, as they passed out of a Woman’s Convention; “a woman that can speak like Lucretia Mott, ought to speak.” And men themselves cannot escape from this conviction. The duty of women, therefore, is to inspire it by doing whatever they undertake worthily and well; patient in waiting for opportunities, prompt to seize, conscientious to profit by them.

Source: Caroline H. Dall, “Woman’s Right to Labor”; or, Low Wages and Hard Work: In Three Lectures, Delivered in Boston, November, 1859 (Boston: Walker, Wise, 1860).

(p.130) Peace and Harmony Were to Prevail in the Future—All for Two Hundred Dollars a Year

The 1889 case of Nancy Miller before the Iowa State Supreme Court offers another interpretation of the relationship between domesticity, labor, and the rights of citizenship. As recounted in the Woman’s Standard, Iowa’s suffrage newspaper, Nancy Miller entered into a labor contract with her husband in order to preserve domestic harmony. When her husband refused to pay her agreed-on wage, she sued and lost. Even though her husband had acknowledged the monetary value of her labor, he was under no legal obligation to honor the contract. While married women’s property acts (1850s) had given wives legal control over wages earned outside the home, the court found that the domestic labor Nancy preformed was already owed to her husband on the basis of their marriage contract. Such legal interpretations buttressed the cultural assumptions that erased women’s contributions to the family economy and kept their labor “pastoralized.”

For the benefit of the future historian of the woman’s movement, I want to call attention to the Nancy Miller case. The case, which was tried before or decided by the Supreme Court of Iowa, is thus stated by a Chicago daily paper:

“This case was that of Nancy Miller versus her husband for breach of contract. The two had had quarrels as husband and wife often do. To prevent their recurrence, they agreed that if Mrs. Miller would look closely after all the wants of the family, he would pay her $200 yearly. Past rows were to be forgotten, and peace and harmony were to prevail in the future—all for two hundred dollars a year, payable monthly, in advance. Mrs. Miller did her part, but her husband failed to pay, and she sued for the money. The court held that the contract was void because against public policy, and that it imposed no duties not in the marriage contract.”

If Mr. Miller had made this contract with a male business partner and had refused to fulfill his part when his partner had faithfully complied with the terms of the compact, would there have been any hesitation in the mind of the judge who heard the case, as to Miller’s obligations to pay? None at all.

(p.131) One of the questions which must be faced and solved in the interests of pure justice in the future, is that of the pecuniary independence of wives. It sounds very sweet and sentimental and vicariously altruistic to declare that love is the coin woman likes best to be paid in; but, though that is true, it is also true that when other human beings are pecuniarily benefited by her willing service, justice demands that she be paid a certain percentage of that benefit.

We are not given the particulars of this case, but it can be fairly assumed that this was but one of thousands never brought before the courts, where the husband, with plenty of money at command, yet stinted the money allowance of his wife, while demanding of her services for which, had she been his hired servant, the two hundred dollars per year, promised but not paid her, would have been but a small part of the wage legally her due.

If marriage were in reality the equal partnership in money matters and in all else which it is sometimes represented to be, then the Iowa judge’s decision would not be so unjust. But nowhere is it such equal partnership in law. While there are hundreds of husbands whose own natural sense of justice causes them to give their wives unquestioned disposal of the family funds, yet in these cases it is still a gift and not a legal right; while there are, on the contrary, thousands of husbands who, taking advantage of the sanction of law, and the laxity of public opinion on this subject, commit cruel injustice to their wives, such injustice that if they did it to any other than the woman they have sworn to “cherish and protect,” their names would become a by-word and a disgrace among their fellow men.

Source: “The Unpaid Laborer,” Woman’s Standard 4, no. 1 (September 1889): 1.