The term separate spheres in our title is a metaphor that has been used by
scholars to describe a historically constituted ideology of gender relations
that holds that men and women occupy distinct social, affective, and occu-
pational realms. According to this separate spheres metaphor, there is a
public sphere inhabited by men and a private sphere that is the domain of
women. Scholars have searched for and found evidence of gender relations
organized along these lines at various moments in the history of Western
culture, but like to argue that the separate spheres ideology took on re-
newed power and urgency in nineteenth-century America. They insist that
not only was nineteenth-century American society organized around the
model of the separate spheres but also that the female sphere of sentiment,
home, and hearth suddenly became a source of great national value, pride,
and inspiration.
How these scholars prize this bifurcated social structure and the pur-
ported ascendancy of domesticity and sentimentalism in the nineteenth cen-
tury varies widely. For some, the nineteenth century’s appreciation of the
female sphere meant a decline in the original Puritanical (and male) values
that lead to the colonization of America, a revolution against England,
and the creation of a new
For others, the literature, ideas, and so-
cial activities of women in the nineteenth century were a high point in
the history of women precisely because the values of the ‘‘feminine’’ so-
cial sphere had national cultural importance. Scholars working in this latter
tradition, for instance, have generated landmark histories of literary pro-
duction, women’s friendship, the novel as a genre, and women’s reading
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