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Turns of the Centuries Exhibit > Family Life 1780-1820
This theme in other eras: 1680-1720 | 1780-1820 | 1880-1920

Family Life 1780-1820

1780-1820Family Life

The population of Britain's former North American colonies continued to expand in the years after the American Revolution. Towns grew while new and existing cities experienced unprecedented growth. American settlement had pushed beyond the eastern seaboard and now included the lands west of the Mississippi River. Better roads and an expanding national postal service encouraged communication. A new sophistication characterized political thinking as differing opinions emerged regarding first the wisdom of a Revolution, and later what kind of government should replace the colonial examples. These developments produced important effects on family life. Men and women redefined their roles to meet the social, economic and political demands of a new government and society. Childrearing methods reflected new beliefs about children. Opportunities for education increased to meet the republic's need for an educated citizenry. Technological advances and an expanding economy allowed even ordinary people to indulge in customs and goods formerly available only to the wealthy. The nuclear family might now be housed in a home with neo-classical or Greek Revival details with curtains at the windows and carpets on the floor.

"Old House in Essex, MA," c. 1884, by Agnes Higginson (1810-1888)

See the Digital Collecton for further information.

Explore these subthemes to better understand Family Life at this time.

Child Life

Child Life : Discovery of Childhood

Games and toys assumed new meaning and acceptability in the 1780s as new childrearing philosophies emphasized the essential role recreation played in raising healthy, intelligent children.

Gender Roles

Gender Roles : A New American Woman

By the early nineteenth century, Americans increasingly restricted women's cultural participation and influence to the domestic sphere where they believed educated and virtuous women would preserve and instill republican values.


Education : Educated Citizens

The belief in the early national period that only an educated populace could sustain a free republican government and culture strengthened what was already a remarkable commitment to public education.


Customs : Marketing Gentility

A consumer revolution enabled even middling sorts to aspire to ideals of gentility and respectability previously confined to the leisured rich.

Getting Things

Getting Things : Adding Up

A shortage of gold and silver created a credit-driven American economy, resting upon hundreds of thousands of individual promises to pay and the exchange of goods and services in place of cash.


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