America in the 1850s


What did de Tocqueville say about girls and women?

His observations on the American female are one of the most sympathetic, and touching, of all his writings. As de Tocqueville saw it, the young American girl—somewhere between the ages of eight and sixteen—enjoyed more freedom and joy than the girls of any other nation. The American girl performed her household chores without complaint, and when the work was done, she went for long picnics, horseback rides, or walks in the woods, and all these she performed without fear of being molested. All this changed on the day of her wedding, however.

From the moment she married, the American female became burdened with a hundred different tasks, most of which never seemed to be done. She knitted, sewed, cooked, cleaned, cared for her husband and children in all manner of ways, and never seemed to have a moment for herself. Even so, she seemed—to de Tocqueville—to be content, knowing her value and worth. He concludes his chapter on the subject with these lines: “If I were asked, now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply—to the superiority of their women.”


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