The Ideals of the cult of True Womanhood
In the 19th century, American women participated in moral reform movements. Historians through Brown and Welters articles seek to apprehend if the women who participated in the reform movements did so as a religious duty or as a vehicle into the public sphere. The moral reformists sought to identify the moral guidance of women in their daily actions. In the 19th century, many feminists came up to fight for the troubles of women in the society. While some viewed the pious role of women as a religious duty, some used it as a vehicle to the public sphere.According to Brown, God called women from the ordinary sphere of action to assume positions of high public responsibility. Piety was considered a virtue for every woman in society1. Piety defined the real meaning of womanhood in the American society. During this epoch, women’s roles were considered customarily, mainly enforced by the cultural assumptions of domesticity. Women were therefore encouraged to participate in the vast publishing of religious texts since it kept them pure. Of the reformists, Palmer, acknowledged the religious fact that God called women but was opposed to the political suffrage of women and clerical ordination for the reason that these roles pushed women outside their domestic sphere. Some individuals like Elizabeth Prentiss became moral reformists as a vehicle into the public sphere. She believed that it was not her religious obligation to write religious books since it did not define her profession. Palmer a social reformist states that many women used religion as a blanket to cover up their political and ecclesiastical ideals since they were afraid of coming out to fulfill their political reveries. The emphasis on piety as a virtue for true womanhood only acted as a tool through which women pursued their political ambitions but remained disguised in religion.
In her manuscript, the Cult of True Womanhood, Barbara Welter identifies the customary role of women in society. In this article, women were urged to remain pure in all their actions not only for the religion but also as a societal value. In the book, the Young Lady’s Book, a woman is required to possess certain characteristics such as a spirit of obedience and submission humility of mind and pliability to temper between her cradles her and grave. The cult of true womanhood dictated that true women be moral guidance to their family. They believed that they were appropriate for that role because they were spiritually pure and hence closer to God.
The women remained pure since they stayed away from the degrading political environment of the outside world, which could ruin their innocence. Moral purity could not withstand the callousness of a world dominated by unreserved competition of the free enterprise classification.In her point of view, Welter saw the cult as offering a fine illustration of the way in which a certain phenomenon can interact with its environment, reinforce itself, and redefine itself. In true womanhood, no female is too young or too old to accept instructions from the literature that glorified the True Woman. The churches and courts reinforced the women’s puniness by dwelling on moral purity though, the women claimed that moral superiority as a legitimate platform for reforms was ironical since it took them outside the home by awarding them a public influence in matters of civic virtue and public vice2.Therefore, the stance made the cult aggressive, oppressive, and less able to restrict women in their homes. Very few women lived up to the tenets of the cult of true womanhood. Only the newly forming middle class tried to keep its women at home to perform the duties of true womanhood which were so many and very venerated that many women could not put up to them. With time, most of the women went beyond their homes especially the lowly who worked in plantations.The idea of the cult of True Womanhood was just a myth. Following the events of this period, women came out as reformists and it became difficult for them to keep off the political sphere. Women wanted men to recognize that their customarily role in homes was underrated and hence used moral reform movements as a tool to accomplish their political goals2.From the readings of Barbara and Brown, full accomplishment of moral reforms was not fully accomplished since its tenet of piety could not be limited to homes. In the male dominated society, women reformists performed their religious duty of ensuring that morality prevailed at all spheres. Women had a public voice that allowed them to participate in activities beyond their homes. A naysayer would strongly object that women participated in moral reform movements as a conduit into the public political sphere.The responsibility of women earlier than and throughout the 19th century had its jurisdiction to the home. In the religious sphere, women were expected to uphold piousness since God had appointed them due to their purity. Their participation in moral reforms could be considered as their religious duty towards morality.
BibliographyBrown, Candy Gunther. “Publicizing Domestic Piety: The women Cultural Work of Religious Texts in the Woman’s construction Library.” Jstor (Libraries & Culture) 41, no. 1 (Winter2006 2006): 35-54.Welter, Barbara. “The Cult of True Womanhood.” American Quarterly (The Johns Hopkins University Press) 18, no. 2 (1820): 151-174.