The economic transformations of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century brought about further changes in men’s and women’s roles. Work was less likely to be done in the home, as fewer and fewer Americans lived on farms, and men left the home to work in offices and factories. Men assumed sole responsibility for the financial support of the family, becoming the breadwinners, a term coined in the early 19th century. Married women were not supposed to work for wages, and were considered too pure and innocent to be out in the working world. Women were supposed to devote themselves to domestic duties, and children were seen as young innocents who needed a mother’s protection. Fathers had less and less to do with raising their children.
Although the 19th-century ideal held that married women were not supposed to work, women did contribute to the family’s well-being. Wealthy women planned formal dinners, balls, and other social gatherings that were crucial to their husbands’ political and business success. Middle-class women sewed for what they called pin money, small amounts that frequently balanced the family budget. Married women in the middle and working classes took in boarders, sold hot lunches or pastries to neighbors, and saved money by doing their own baking, brewing, gardening, and other chores. It was also common in middle- and working-class families for sons to be sent to school, while their teenage sisters supported this schooling by working in a factory, teaching in elementary schools, or taking in sewing. Such work was considered acceptable as long as it was either done in the house or by unmarried young women.
Many 19th-century American families did not fit into this nuclear family ideal, as it was expensive. High housing costs meant more people than just the nuclear family often lived under one roof. Extended families, including grandparents and other relatives, were most numerous in the mid-19th century. Immigrants clung to traditional extended-family forms, and poorer families often included grandparents, grandchildren, and sometimes aunts and uncles in order to maximize sources of income and save on rent.
Check out these amazing photos below to see how did everyday life of people in their houses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.