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In the Classroom > Course Overview > Unit Overview > Lesson 4
Lesson 4
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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