C. Early Elementary Reading
Where do you live? (A farm, a suburb, a small town, a medium town, a city?)
What is a family?
Who were the members of the first family?
What is your family like?
How many people are in your family?
Do your grandparents live with you?
What is your family like? In the past, families were a little different than they are today. In the 19th century,
many families lived on farms. Some lived areas that were far from neighbors. Some people only went into town
once or twice a year. Many families in the past were also larger than families are today. Men needed lots of
sons to help on the farm. Women needed daughters to help in the house.
If you had lived in the 19th century, you might have had people who were not your mother, father, brother or
sister living with you. An unmarried aunt or uncle, or your grandparents. might have lived with you. Your parents
might have taken in one of your cousins, or even a friend's child. You might even have had a person who
worked for your family living in your house, or YOU might have lived with another family in order to help them or
to go to school.
C2. Readings for Elementary - Early H. S. Students
Today, you probably live with your parents and a few brothers and sisters. In the 19th century, many families
were larger than most families are today. In addition to the nuclear family of mother, father and children, a
family might consist of grandparents, a widowed or unmarried aunt or uncle, orphaned children from relatives
and also non-relatives like servants and boarders. For farmers a large family was a blessing. Farmwork was
labor-intensive, and many hands make light work.
Families were different in other ways as well. Today divorce is a sad fact for many families. In the past, few
people divorced, as it was considered a public scandal. Books that talked about divorce were not considered
Although there were fewer divorces, many families were broken or changed by death. Usually if a wife or
husband died, the remaining spouse would remarry. It was not uncommon for families to be blended with
siblings, step-siblings and half-siblings. If both of a child’s parents died, that child might go to live with relatives
or might be sent to the country poor house or poor farm, or to an orphanage. Sometimes neighbors took in
Another difference between 19th Century families and those today is that in the early 19th Century, most
families still lived on farms. Many of these farms were very isolated; travel was difficult and people might go into
a town only a few times a year. Of course, even in the 19th century there were people who lived in small towns
or large cities, but the U.S. was still an agrarian country. Even people who lived in towns might have grown up
on farms, and they were very familiar with the rural way of life. Rural life were often romanticized in illustrations
and in popular stories and novels.
C3. Upper High School - Adult (Start reading with C2 above)
Social Level: Employer and Servant
Today, most of us do not worry a great deal about our social level, but in the 19th century this was still a very
important issue in some areas. In cities such as Boston and New York, certain very wealthy families were at the
top of the social scale. Other families were middle class, and then there were the working classes and the poor.
People often tended to marry those from the same or a similar level of society.
In some cities, being a member of the most elite class could only be acquired through birth. In other places, an
extremely wealthy person might gain access to the highest society. In a rural area, a "respectable" farmer or
store-owner might be considered a pillar of the community.
The Move toward a Servant Class
Although early Americans were often proud of living in a republican society where there was more opportunity
for social advancement, many Americans still believed in their hearts that some people were simply not equal to
others. Whether they admitted it or not, many people in the United States felt that certain people were
intrinsically better than others: color, wealth, social class, education, religion, and respectability were all dividing
This should not be surprising. The wealthiest classes in America tended to look toward England, and they often
traveled widely in Europe. There, they saw the landed estates and palatial manorial houses of the gentry and
nobility, tended by respectful servants who pulled their forelocks, bowed, and curtseyed to "the quality." The
American traveler then returned home, often with a foreign servant in tow, to organize his household along
By contrast, apart from some of the early Irish bond-servants, most Americans who went into domestic service
had traditionally generally considered themselves as "help" rather than as "servants." They sometimes ate at
the same table as their employers and were often from the same social class: the son or daughter of a neighbor.
Around the 1840s, more and more employers changed the way they viewed their domestic staff. Unlike "help,"
servants were considered inferior socially to the family, were expected to eat in the kitchen or at another table,
and were expected to be respectful and dress more simply than their employers. These servants were often
poor immigrants fleeing the potato famine in Ireland, or were African-Americans.
Men, Women and Children
Men were considered superior to women of the same social class in the social hierarchy and were often
(jokingly or not) called the “lords of creation." Of course, an upper class woman outranked a working class man
in some ways. Men were expected to provide for their family, although the wife's labor either within or outside of
the home was extremely important. Men also held the bulk of political offices. They could vote, and were able to
sit on juries, and they held the bulk of professional jobs.
Women In general, 19th century women were expected to be modest, quiet and to keep out of the limelight.
Married women were expected to run the household and manage the servants. In some social circles, the
competent housewife was praised. In the wealthiest circles, however, the ideal "lady" was above doing hard or
dirty jobs. This was a pleasant fiction, however, because few married women were exempt from all work and
In addition to housework, plenty of middle-class women also worked in family businesses or helped their
husbands run their farms or plantations. Middle-class girls who had to earn a living sometimes became
governesses, and middle-class widows with enough capital might start a boarding house. For a poor, unskilled
woman, such as a widow or an immigrant, life could be very hard. Women had limited and usually poorly-paid
job opportunities: sewing, domestic service, some types of factory work, or millinery. School-teaching and
nursing did not become respectable feminine jobs until the mid-19th century.
Women could not vote, sit on juries, or (sometimes) own property.
|LESSON II: PEOPLE, STATUS and FAMILY LIFE
|A late 19th century mother and father with their little girl (left) and little son (right).
Little boys at that time wore skirts until they were 3-5 years old.
A. PLANNING AND ACTIVITIES
1. Have pieces of paper or pre-printed genealogy forms available for children to fill out their family tree. Or,
you can have one large sheet of paper and the whole family can work on it together. You can later compare
your family to 19th century families. If you are doing the lap-book, have the pages printed out. You can find
free lapbook templates at www.homeschoolshare.com/lapbooking_resources.php
2. In this section, you may need to discuss the death of parents or divorce with your older children. You may
want to explain your church’s beliefs about divorce and also how divorce affects children and adults. You may
also want to explain adoption, and how adoption works. As an adoptive parent, I have included some
information on adoption at the end of this lesson.
3. You might want to have a large sheet of paper or a dry-erase board handy to make a chart comparing your
family with families in the 19th century. Or have each child make his own chart.
4) Older students may wish to chose one or more of the social groups listed below (or a group from your own
community) and do a project about their lives. A question sheet that can help is located at the end of this
5)If it is convenient, you may want to have access to a 19th century copy of a census record for your family. If
you cannot locate this, you may simply wish to look at a page of the census. Each census contains different
information. Of course, most African-American families will be listed in the 1870 census and afterwards. You
can find some free census images at http://www.usgwarchives.net/census/ You can find others at your local
B. VOCABULARY - discuss or define according
nuclear family marriage
aristocrat (aristocracy) gentry
bond-servant (bond-slave) milliner millinery
|Mary Crow, Webster Parish, La. c. 1880
12 years old.
A double-page spread from 1848 Godey's Lady's Book shows the
difference in depiction of an Irish maid verses a middle-class mistress.
The maid is presented as a comic figure, trying on her mistress' bonnet
and muff while holding a broom, while the middle class lady is elegant and
Godey's Lady's Book was the most popular middle-class women's
magazine of the mid 19th-Century. It featured stories, fashion illustrations,
music, crafts, poetry, news, and drawings, all targeted to the middle-class
woman of the time. It is an example of a primary source of information.
African-Americans were usually
considered a servant-class simply because
of their race. This 1852 illustration shows an
elegant African-American nurse-maid caring
for an infant. She is wearing the tignon
(turban) commonly seen in New Orleans.
Below: Some Americans returned from
trips to Europe with foreign servants.
French maids were especially popular,
especially as lady's maids and
nurse-maids. The woman on the far right
in this illustration is a "bonne" or French
Pulling one's forelock (bangs, front of the
hair) was an English sign of deference to a
person of higher social status, similar to
raising one's hat, bowing, or making a curtsy.
In large cities, poor people could make a few
coins sweeping the filthy streets so that a
wealthy person could cross. Here a young
street-sweeper is pulling his forelock to the
elegantly dressed young lady.
Godey's Lady's Book Feb. 1866
|Hierarchy of Servants
A wealthy household might have a number of servants, and these workers had a hierarchy of their own. At
the top were the Butler and Housekeeper. Under these were ladies' maids, footmen, valet, nurses (who
cared for children) and parlor maids. A very wealthy home might have a chef with his assortment of helpers,
while more modest homes simply had a cook. At the very bottom of the house-servants list were scullery
maids, who washed dishes. Outdoors, the coachman and grooms cared for the horses, while gardeners
tended the grounds.
A middle-class family might employ a laundress, a cook and a maid-of-all-work. Even though many people
complained about finding "help," finding a maid was relatively inexpensive because employers paid no
benefits. Young girls from the poor house could be hired for a small sum, or even for nothing.
Children were socially inferior to adults of their social class,
although wealthy children might be addressed as Master or Miss
by the family's servants.
Attitudes toward children changed greatly during the late 18th
and early 19th century. The Puritans and some other religious
groups had viewed children as being contaminated by original
sin, thus there was great emphasis on early religious training
and breaking or training the child's will.
During the early 19th century, this view of childhood began to
change, and by early-mid 19th century, children were seen as
innocent and even angelic. Childhood was pictured as a happy
time of life, and more books and toys were created for children's
Although children were now seen in a more positive light, they
were still taught by a strict code of condust in some areas. In
some places, children were expected to be quiet around adults,
and sometimes had to wait to eat or eat standing up. This
custom was still observed in the South until the mid-20th century.
Not all 19th century children were directly cared for by their
parents. As in England and France, wealthy American children
were often cared for primarily by servants, and lived in their own
part of the house (nursery).
C. Readings & Addition Readings
D. Bible Lessons
G. Citing Sources (Advanced)