History 246 Reading Guide

“Woman’s Separate Sphere”:  Myths, realities, and historiography

  • Linda Kerber, “Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place:  The Rhetoric of Women’s History,” Journal of American History 75 (1988), 9-39.  JSTOR
  • Leila Rupp, “Women’s History in the New Millennium:  A Retrospective Analysis of Barbara Welter’s 'The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820-1860'” Journal of Women’s History 14.1 (Spring 2002), 149  Project Muse, and Nancy A. Hewett, “Taking the True Woman Hostage” JWH, 14.1 (Spring 2002), 156-62  Project Muse

Further reading:

  • Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood, 1820-1860," American Quarterly 18 (Summer 1966), 151-174  JSTOR


In her review of the historiography of nineteenth-century women’s lives and women’s culture, specifically as it relates to historians’ use of the metaphor of “separate spheres,” Linda Kerber offers an overview of some of the topics, themes, and perspectives that we will be addressing as we look at women’s experience in the nineteenth century.

  • Why does Kerber begin her historiographical review with Tocqueville?
  • How did women's historians in the 1960s first use this metaphor for both descriptive and theoretical purposes?
  • How and why did historians begin to redefine the metaphor?  
  • When did historians begin to “unpack” the metaphor of separate spheres? How did their research reframe the questions about women’s lives and women’s experience?
  • Where are we now?