Women's Roles during the Federal Era
During the 1780-1820 period, the responsibilities thrust on women
were extensive. If the man's world was primarily outdoors, the woman's
was largely indoors. And although her work was also seasonal to
some extent, the word "dailiness" better describes it.
She oversaw the care of the house and the children, the processing
of food for the table and for winter storage, and the creation of
bedding and garments.
Women were often responsible for maintaining
the quality of life not only for their own nuclear family, but also
for an extended household that could include grandparents, maiden
aunts, bachelor uncles, frail or infirm relatives, household help,
and farm laborers. The numbers could vary greatly over a period
of time. Bonds within families could be strong, although the births
of children within a family could create tension and additional
burdens among the elders, who provided the care and teaching for
those children as they grew. Ultimately, each person relied on the
housewife for his or her care and the creation of a sense of "family."
In spite of the wife's extensive responsibilities, the husband,
according to the conventions of the time, ruled her.
Births and deaths in this period were the province
of the women of the communities. At the time of a birth, a female
relative was usually expected to be present as well as women neighbors
and a midwife, rather than a physician. (Near the end of Martha
Ballard's midwife career, male physicians began to replace female
midwives at birthings.) The women not only assisted with the preparations
for the birth and the birth itself, but also provided support during
the first days of the infant's arrival. In farm families, the period
of confinement was relatively brief, while in more affluent families,
the confinement time might be extended to include a period of extended
bed rest, during which time the new mother formally received guests.
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