Michigan Women and Their Kin, 1820-1920
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"Home and family," for a woman of the nineteenth century, represented a sphere much broader than the term implies today. A woman's duties as sister and daughter continued, basically unchanged, even after she had assumed the roles of wife and mother. This created a female-centered kin network which went far beyond the fragile nuclear family, and which insured lifelong security in what men and women viewed as an essentially hostile world.
The female family is vividly portrayed in True Sisterhood, where Marilyn Ferris Motz examines the lives of white Protestant native-born American women living in Michigan between 1820 and 1920 and the kinship networks to which they belonged—networks that often extended east to New England and the Middle Atlantic states and westward as far as California. The University of Michigan's Bentley Library collections of the correspondence, diaries, photographs, and other documents of numerous family groups have provided the primary resources for this study of thirty extended families. Focusing on personal interaction within the family, Motz shows women playing an active role that is not suggested by observation of residence patterns, household composition, or legal distribution of authority. The book reveals women's use of language to maintain personal relationships, to persuade and manipulate, and to obtain support. Thus the power base of the woman, her informal networks based on personal interaction, persuasion, and sense of obligation, become visible. True Sisterhood shows that women's influence was not merely a fabrication of the literature of what has come to be termed the "cult of domesticity" but was a reality within many nineteenth-century homes.
Marilyn Ferris Motz is Assistant Professor of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University.