History/GWS 249 Reading Guide

The “Reality” of Women’s Lives

  • 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 (2002), 149.  Project Muse or Academic Search Complete; Nancy A. Hewitt, “Taking the True Woman Hostage,” Journal of Women’s History, 14.1 (2002), 156-62.  Project Muse or Academic Search Complete


Linda Kerber offers a review of the historiography of nineteenth-century women’s lives and women’s culture, specifically as it relates to the evolution of historians’ use of the metaphor of “separate spheres.”

  • How was the metaphor initially applied in recent historiography, and for what theoretical purposes was it used?
  • How, when, and by whom was the metaphor redefined?
  • How did historians finally “unpack” the metaphor of separate spheres? How did their research reframe the questions about women’s lives and women’s experience?

We can use the various frameworks for understanding women’s place and women’s world that Kerber describes and analyzes to help us analyze the stories that nineteenth-century, middle-class, Anglo-American women wrote about women’s lives, women’s experiences, and women’s “spheres.”