Mothers of the Victorian Period
There is no doubt in the fact that motherhood has changed throughout history in the way that it is practiced and perceived. Although hard to classify motherhood as an "easy" task in any time period, mothers of the Victorian period were among those who have had it the hardest. For example, Natalie McKnight, author of Suffering Mothers in Mid-Victorian Novels, states: "When I first began studying the lives of Victorian women, I sympathized with the many women who suffered through the agonies of labor only to die shortly after the baby was born. As I continued my research, I began to feel more sympathy with those who survived" (McKnight 1).
Victorian mothers were put under tremendous pressures and expectations when it came to mothering their children. Prior to this time, mothers raised their children based on what felt natural and instinctive. Moving into the mid-nineteenth century, however, mothers were expected to follow conduct and medical books for wives, mothers, and newborns, as well as use new products on the market for mother and baby. The duties that were placed upon the woman were "to maintain and develop the child’s complete physical, mental, and spiritual health, pretty much without the help of the father" (McKnight 2). Mothers took care of domestic matters and their children, while men were free to concentrate on work and public affairs (Shiman 35). Motherhood, thereby, had come to be a skill that had to be learned rather than acquired by observing other women who had been mothers.
In a broader sense, men, women, and children each had their own "sphere." Within the privacy of their home, members of the household were divided into groups between children and other members of the household, which were to be followed as strictly as the division between servants and employers (Gorham 9). Assistance for mothers by governesses, nannies, and servants was rare as well, because even expanded middle class families struggled to afford them (Kane 50).
According to Deborah Gorham in her book The Victorian Girl and the Feminine Ideal, "In order to be considered a good mother, a woman would not only be expected to devote time and effort to her role, she was also expected to approach that role in a new way" (Gorham 65). Mothers could rely on advice manuals to guide them in areas of moral and spiritual welfare, intellectual and social training, and ways to stimulate learning and maintain healthy children (Gorham 73). The books contained information such as: "healthy children require cleanliness, frequent exposure to fresh air, and simplicity of diet. Overindulgence and neglect are to be avoided, and consistency are to remain a focus" (Gorham 67).
Mothering a son was quite different then mothering a daughter. It was a top priority to teach a...