The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Women’s Roles

What did foreigners say about the condition of American women?

Some, to be sure, were scornful of American women as they were of the young republic as a whole. Others, however, saw that American women had it reasonably well in many ways. One in the latter group was Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman who spent eight months in the United States from 1831 to 1832. His commentary on many aspects of American life is refreshing, and sometimes brilliant, but he is perhaps at his best, or most sympathetic, when describing the condition of American women. Here are some of his most flattering words:

In no country has such constant care been taken as in America to trace two clearly distinct lines of action for the two sexes, and to make them keep pace one with the other, but in two pathways which are always different. American women never manage the outward concerns of the family, or conduct a business, or take a part in political life; nor are they, on the other hand, ever compelled to perform the rough labor of the fields, or to make any of those laborious exertions which demand the exertion of physical strength. No families are so poor as to form an exception to this rule.


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