Family and Divorce in California, 1850-1890

Victorian Illusions and Everyday Realities

By Robert L. Griswold

Subjects: American History
Paperback : 9780873956345, 266 pages, June 1983
Hardcover : 9780873956338, 266 pages, June 1983

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Table of contents



1. Introduction: From Patriarchy to Companionship

2. Divorce Documents and Divorce Seekers

3. Ideal Womanhood in California

4. Dimensions of Womanhood: Domesticity, Chastity, and Independence

5. Ideal Manhood in California

6. Manhood and the Companionate Ideal

7. Parents and Children in Nineteenth-Century California

Afterword: The Family, Victorian Culture, and Twentieth-Century Developments

Appendix: Composition of the Social Classes




Few of the men and women who came to California after the discovery of gold had the opportunity or the inclination to record their thoughts about family life. Their family experience, like that of most nineteenth-century Americans, is obscured by time and an absence of sources.


Family and Divorce in California succeeds in reconstructing the private world of farmers, laborers, small-town merchants tradesmen, and housewives through an examination of local newspapers, census data, legal documents, and, above all, divorce records during the years 1850 to 1890. Some 400 divorce cases from two rural counties form the core of the study.

Here we see how the compassionate ideal, the cult of true womanhood, and the work ethic actually affected the attitudes and behavior of working-class and rural as well as urban, middle-class people. A wide variety of topics is covered:

basic family values
women's health, work, sexuality, character, and indepdence
men's work, sexual conduct, and affective retions
the nature of parenthood, childhood, and marital companionship
domestic violenc

The book also explores the early years of the divorce crisis that began in the 1880s and answers the questions of how and why it developed.

Robert Griswold is assistant professor history at the University of Oklahoma.