Date of Award

Spring 5-14-2016

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Liam Riordan

Second Committee Member

Joseph A. Conforti

Third Committee Member

Ben Friedlander

Additional Committee Members

Mazie Hough

Scott W. See


Between 1830 and 1880 technology, market capitalism, and the formation of the middle-class transformed the household from a bustling site of production for both men and women into the idyllic refuge of “home” overseen by women apart from the chaotic public world. As influential author Sarah Josepha Hale explained, women were now tasked with creating the “home [as] the place of happiness.” Ideal womanhood, as expressed in varied discourses about domesticity, posited that the home was women’s natural sphere and care of home and family her natural role. This dissertation scrutinizes printed sources related to the household as well as manuscript recipe collections to better understand the lived experience of domesticity and to challenge the dominance of published, prescriptive ideology for the study of nineteenth-century women. The expanding content and commentary in published and manuscript material attests that by the mid-nineteenth century middle-class women’s domestic responsibilities extended far beyond merely overseeing home life and feeding the nuclear family.

Women’s interaction with the expectations of domesticity, preserved through the compilation of manuscript recipe collections and the annotations in printed texts, reveals the ordinary practice of domesticity and provides the researcher with invaluable clues about how women navigated sweeping changes in domestic ideology. The domestic spaces deeply shaped middle-class women’s existence and identity in the nineteenth century, as a result placing food, recipes, and cooking at the center of analysis supports a more fully-engaged history of middle-class women. The assessment of these domestic texts and personal writings yields a new understanding of middle-class domestic experiences that highlights the importance of relationships and sociability. This emphasis challenges women’s perceived isolation in the home by revealing how female relationships and socializing patterns created the home as a “social sphere,” rather than as a private one. Furthermore, recipe collecting shows how women re-crafted the dictates of prescriptive domesticity to better suit their desires and circumstances. The resulting hybrid sociability allowed them to combine domestic responsibilities with their need for meaningful social engagement. In this analysis, recipes and cookbooks demonstrate how women conformed to, negotiated with, and resisted the expectations placed upon them by domestic ideology.

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