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Ideal Family: Defining the Ideal Family Throughout American History

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The ideal American family was transformed in the 19th century in large part due to the great changes taking place in the American society. Many family groups fit this changing mold while some did not. In this essay I will show how this concept of the ideal American family changed. I will also try to explain which groups of Americans followed this concept and why.

The end of the 18th century was a turbulent time in American history. The country had just won its independence from Great Britain and was attempting to find an identity for itself. Up to this point families in America were similar to British families. The father was the head of the household, but lived in harmony with his wife. The children were seen as part of the family’s labor force, helping to produce food and supplies for the family. The church ruled the family as much as colonial law in the late 18th. A change in the general economy paved the way for the emergence of a new type of family.

The market economy arose in the 1800’s in America. Goods were no longer being produced solely for family consumption. The families of this period were producing goods in excess to sell at markets. Goods able to be purchased at a market as well as the slave trade in the south helped to lessen the amount of household production for the average American family. With a market economy now in place in America, the door was open for the factory system and industrialization. This factory system created two main ...

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...ed years ago many Americans may not have thought twice about the idea that there was a correct form that a family should follow. In the 19th century our country was young and was one of a few to have to come up with its own national identity in such a short period of time. In hindsight and with a bit of anachronism one could say that America dealt with its immigrant population with a great deal of hypocrisy. Instead of being a haven for immigrants America was almost a factory, attempting to take in different people and create a melting pot in which everything becomes alike. Every ingredient eventually loses its uniqueness.


christine stansell "women children and the uses of the streets" Femenists studies 8 (sep.82)

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