Social housekeeping

Last updated
Julia Lathrop, Jane Addams, and Mary McDowell in Washington Julia Lathrop, Jane Addams, and Mary McDowell in Washington 3a50129u.tif
Julia Lathrop, Jane Addams, and Mary McDowell in Washington

Socialhousekeeping, also known as municipal or civil housekeeping, was a socio-political movement that occurred primarily through the 1880s to the early 1900s in the Progressive Era around the United States. [1]

Many progressives supported prohibition of alcoholic beverages, ostensibly to destroy the political power of local bosses based in saloons, but others out of a religious motivation. At the same time, women's suffrage was promoted to bring a "purer" female vote into the arena. A third theme was building an Efficiency Movement in every sector that could identify old ways that needed modernizing, and bring to bear scientific, medical and engineering solutions; a key part of the efficiency movement was scientific management, or "Taylorism". In Michael McGerr's book A Fierce Discontent, Jane Addams stated that she believed in the necessity of "association" of stepping across the social boundaries of industrial America.

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.


The movement expanded the customary view of a woman's domain as the home, to portray the community as extension of this sphere of influence. [2] The language of social housekeeping served to justify increased female participation in socio-political matters. [1] [2]

Those involved in the movement sought both legislative and social reform for issues including education, regulation of foodstuffs and medicines, sanitation and health. [2] The reform occurred outside of the exclusionary political structures and instead in women's clubs, colleges and settlement houses. [3]

Womans club movement social movement that took place throughout the United States

The woman's club movement was a social movement that took place throughout the United States that established the idea that women had a moral duty and responsibility to transform public policy. While women's organizations had always been a part of United States history, it was not until the Progressive era that it came to be considered a "movement." The first wave of the club movement during the Progressive era was started by white, middle-class, Protestant women and a second phase by African-American women.

Women's colleges in the United States are single-sex U.S. institutions of higher education that only admit female students. They are often liberal arts colleges. There were approximately 34 active women's colleges in the United States in the fall of 2018, down from a peak of 281 such colleges in the 1960s.


Differing attitudes towards the work of woman, particularly those held by ideologies including material and cultural feminism, culminated in the creation of social housekeeping. According to material feminists, the unbalanced division of domestic work could be aided by a financial acknowledgement of these tasks. Cultural feminists believed that skills that developed from traditional women's work made them better suited to the tasks of local government. [4]

Material feminism highlights capitalism and patriarchy as central in understanding women's oppression. Under materialist feminism, gender is seen as a social construct, and society forces gender roles, such as bearing children, onto women. Materialist feminism's ideal vision is a society in which women are treated socially and economically the same as men. The theory centers on social change rather than seeking transformation within the capitalist system. Jennifer Wicke, defines materialist feminism as "a feminism that insists on examining the material conditions under which social arrangements, including those of gender hierarchy, develop... materialist feminism avoids seeing this gender hierarchy as the effect of a singular... patriarchy and instead gauges the web of social and psychic relations that make up a material, historical moment". She states that "...materialist feminism argues that material conditions of all sorts play a vital role in the social production of gender and assays the different ways in which women collaborate and participate in these productions". Material feminism also considers how women and men of various races and ethnicities are kept in their lower economic status due to an imbalance of power that privileges those who already have privilege, thereby protecting the status quo. Materialist feminists ask whether people have access to free education, if they can pursue careers, have access or opportunity to become wealthy, and if not, what economic or social constraints are preventing them from doing so, and how this can be changed.

Cultural feminism, the view that there is a "female nature" or "female essence," attempts to revalue and redefine attributes ascribed to femaleness. It is also used to describe theories that commend innate differences between women and men. Cultural feminism diverged from radical feminism when some radical feminists rejected the previous feminist and patriarchal notion that feminine traits are undesirable and returned to an essentialist view of gender differences in which they regard female traits as superior.

An interweaving of both paradigms resulted in the reframing of the definition of the home to include the wider community. [4] The customary conventions of femininity, which depicted the essential role of a woman as the maternal figure of wife and/or mother, facilitated the work of reformer women, as they could justify their value and expertise in tidying their cities on political and social levels, since their prior domestic work had developed an innate awareness of the needs and wants of others. [5] [6]

Social housekeepers described the city as an enlarged home that had to be managed as such, which served as a safeguard against the masculine model of the city as a business. [1] This feminised civic activity provided a mutual ground for activism and reform to develop, supported by connections with the political mechanisms of local government. [3] By redefining the home in a manner that was all-encompassing, the exclusionary practices in the public sphere could no longer hinder the socio-political participation of women. [1]


Jane Addams on U.S. Postage Stamp Jane addams stamp.JPG
Jane Addams on U.S. Postage Stamp

Early appearances of the language of social housekeeping can be found in the writing of female activists, club women and assorted women's publications. [7] The social housekeeping movement utilised the image of housekeeping to bond traditional domestic gender roles with their pursuit to aid social matters. [8]

As the movement developed, groups of women sought reform in similar areas which led to involvement in the work of the women's club movement. [4] Similar to the intents of social housekeeping, women's clubs provided an opportunity to overcome the societally imposed gap between the private and public sphere. [9] The women's club movement benefited from the language of social housekeeping, as it facilitated their later promotion of maternalistic ideology. [5]

In the 1890s, Mary Eno Bassett Mumford worked to form an alliance between the women's Civic Club and the men's Municipal League to greater facilitate club women's ability to serve as municipal housekeepers. Whilst men tended to work directly in parties and government, the exclusionary disenfranchisement of women prompted the creation and operation of voluntary organisations. [3]

The social housekeeping movement did not necessarily equate with giving all women the vote. There were prominent reformer women in both suffragist and anti-suffragist movements. [1] Whilst some social housekeepers like Caroline Bartlett Crane believed the vote would enhance the effectiveness of social housekeepers. Social housekeepers who were for suffrage, acknowledged that despite the benefits of the vote, it was not necessary to facilitate their impact on society. [9]

The later views of social housekeeping are expressed in the works of female reformers like Jane Addams. In “Women and Public Housekeeping”, a broadside written by Jane Addams and published by the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1913, Addams proposed that many of the activities of local councils were previously tasked to women yet as soon as they became governmental responsibilities, women were excluded. Addams explained that the skills required to multitask and meet the complex demands of others was matched best by women who developed these competencies by managing households. [2] [10]


Waste and sanitation

Hull House Jane Addams Hull House.JPG
Hull House

Social housekeepers sought legislative reform for street cleaning and tenement inspection with the aim of establishing systematic waste and sanitation management. [11] Female politicians often focussed on policy that would deal with cleaning up the city under the guise of housekeeping, like the installation of a piped water transport system by the mayor of Jackson, Wyoming. [12] The sanitation reform enacted by municipal housekeepers bonded domesticity and politics, which positioned the skills of the woman as an effective municipal asset. [11]

Reformer Caroline Bartlett Crane served as a consultant in matters of sanitation and municipal cleanliness to other communities. As part of this role she would complete surveys and interviews, examine municipal records and print media texts, before sharing her suggestions at a town meeting and in a report. [1]

The New Century Club in Philadelphia formed a Water Supply Committee which campaigned for clean water and reporting on unhygienic schoolhouses. [3] The group hired an expert whose investigation of the dirty water in their area helped to persuade municipal government to invest $3,000,000 into the recommended new method of sand filtration. [1]

In Chicago, Jane Addams and her fellow members of Hull House endeavoured to clean up the mishandled waste in their area but their efforts were obstructed by the local council. The council handled the issue by giving Addams the position of garbage inspector of the ward on a salary of one thousand dollars per year. The Hull House residents worked to improve the operation of the ward's existing nine garbage wagons and added another eight. [1]

The Ladies Health Protective Association, formed by residents of Beckman Hill in New York City in 1884, recommended the benefits of appointing women as inspectors to the mayor. The Chicago Municipal Order League, modelled after the Ladies Health Protective Association, sought clean streets and alleys under the direction of Ada Celeste Sweet. They informed neighbourhoods and their elected representatives, which resulted in the ordinance passed in the Chicago city council in 1892 to create a new Department of Street Cleaning with its own superintendent. [11]

Fellow Hull House resident and sanitation reformer, Mary Eliza McDowell travelled to Germany and completed research of waste and sanitation facilities. Her work led to her appointment as Chicago's first Commissioner of Public Welfare in 1923, where she sought to alter public opinion about the dangers of ineffective waste management systems. As a key part of Chicago's City Waste Committee, McDowell advised the institution of civil ownership and operation of waste management facilities with a central reduction plant and subsidiary incineration plants. [1]

Health and food safety

Caroline Bartlett Crane Caroline Bartlett Crane.png
Caroline Bartlett Crane

Social housekeepers sought better management of, treatment and the prevention of illness. By 1910, 546 women's clubs in the US had helped to set up hospitals, tuberculosis clinics and sanatoria, 452 had set up open air meetings to discuss improvements to health conditions and 246 had placed wall cards in public areas with information about public health ordinances. [1]

Groups like the Women's Christian Temperance Union sought to regulate the health issues that arose from the developments in food preservation that relied on chemicals. Women's groups strove to objectively research and document food contamination, lobbying for legislation to protect the cleanliness of food, drink and drugs. Caroline Bartlett Crane and other leaders spoke throughout the nation to highlight potential issues such as meat contamination, lead poisoning from cans and foods treated with antiseptics and chemical preservatives. The Massachusetts chapter of the American Association of University Women completed a state-wide survey of the contamination in a typical family's food. Similar studies were completed in other states by their local chapters. [4] This work led to the legislating of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 under the leadership of President Theodore Roosevelt. [1]

Social housekeeping also sought to bring greater awareness to other factors in the domestic sphere causing illness. Improper washing habits meant people were more susceptible to infection. In her 1907 text “Household Bacteriology”, Maria Elliott utilised experiments, data and diagrams to explore the risks that dust posed. These developments intersected with the theory of euthenics which focussed on improving the standard of care in living environments by means of purposeful decision making. [1]


Social housekeepers sought to develop both the formal and informal educational opportunities within their communities. Women's clubs provided a socially acceptable mechanism for the continuing education of women. [13] Reformers such as Caroline Bartlett Crane described the club as the natural opportunity to educate a woman in topics like sociology in order to better seek social reform. [9] Crane helped transform her local church to provide kindergarten classes and to offer educational opportunities for women in science and literature. [1] The education pursuits of women were criticised in many media accounts which suggested that their upskilling would threaten the stability of the household. [13]

Increases in female participation in local government and governmental activity led to greater political capital being invested in the development of children's welfare and formal education. During the early 20th century, communities with greater amounts of female representation in political activity often had higher rates of educational spending. The gradual increase in quality of school facilities also produced a similar phenomenon after 1940 as a result of lessening race based wage gaps. [14]

The institution of a new Pennsylvanian constitution in 1874 permitted women to sit on school boards. It was not until almost a decade after the initial election of two women in the first year for more women to be elected. The Civic Club advocated for the election of Eliza Butler Kirkbride and Sophia Wells Royce Williams to the school board of Philadelphia's 7th Ward. The unsuccessful campaign's collection of data was spread in a pamphlet titled "The Story of a Woman’s Municipal Campaign", edited by Williams and published by the American Academy of Political and Social Science, which facilitated the spread of the work of municipal housekeepers to other reformers around the nation. [3]


Rheta Childe Dorr with the first edition of "The Suffragist" DORR, MRS. RHETA C., SUFFRAGIST. WITH FIRST EDITION OF 'THE SUFFRAGIST' LCCN2016865037.tif
Rheta Childe Dorr with the first edition of "The Suffragist"

The social housekeeping movement was visibly demonstrated in the newspapers and magazines of the time. [7] Municipal housekeeping journalism sought to reveal social issues coupled with suggestions for reform. The writings populated much of the work in magazines associated with the women's club movement such as The New Cycle. [15]

The work of writers like Rheta Childe Dorr in magazines such as the Hampton's, matched the tones of other expose styles, such as muckracking. [7] Much of Dorr's writing dealt with the significance of social housekeeping, and sought to raise awareness of societal issues that directly affected women. In promoting the work of reformer women, Dorr supported her suggested reform with their achievements as evidence. Dorr's work “The Wreck of the Home” expressed the additional burden placed on working women as they were tasked not only with the maternal role of homemaker but also with the task of earning their wage. Dorr sought to examine the socio-political issues that were central to the predicaments dealt with by women and children. Personal anecdotes, fact and argument were utilised by Dorr to raise awareness of the issues and to suggest effective solutions. Her writing served as a method, for Dorr, to urge female readers to participate more in the reform occurring in their communities and reprimand them for their inaction. [16]

The articles written by female journalists of the time, particularly those dealing with social reform or the women's club movement, can be considered as a manifestation of social housekeeping. [16] In the articles, issues such as juvenile delinquency, sanitation and hygiene, and the difficulties faced by working women were explored through challenging discussions of important social problems supported by empirical data. [7]

Related Research Articles

Jane Addams pioneer settlement social worker

Jane Addams was an American settlement activist, reformer, social worker, sociologist, public administrator and author. She was a notable figure in the history of social work and women's suffrage in the United States and an advocate for world peace. She co-founded Chicago's Hull House, one of America's most famous settlement houses. In 1910, Addams was awarded an honorary master of arts degree from Yale University, becoming the first woman to receive an honorary degree from the school. In 1920, she was a co-founder for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In 1931, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States. Maurice Hamington considered her a radical pragmatist and the first woman "public philosopher" in the United States. When Addams died in 1935, she was the best-known female public figure in the United States.

Hull House 19th and 20th-century settlement house in the United States

Hull House was a settlement house in the United States that was co-founded in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr. Located on the Near West Side of Chicago, Illinois, Hull House opened to recently arrived European immigrants. By 1911, Hull House had grown to 13 buildings. In 1912 the Hull House complex was completed with the addition of a summer camp, the Bowen Country Club. With its innovative social, educational, and artistic programs, Hull House became the standard bearer for the movement that had grown, by 1920, to almost 500 settlement houses nationally.

A reform movement is a type of social movement that aims to bring a social or political system closer to the community's ideal. A reform movement is distinguished from more radical social movements such as revolutionary movements which reject those old ideals in the ideas are often grounded in liberalism, although they may be rooted in socialist or religious concepts. Some rely on personal transformation; others rely on small collectives, such as Mahatma Gandhi's spinning wheel and the self-sustaining village economy, as a mode of social change. Reactionary movements, which can arise against any of these, attempt to put things back the way they were before any successes the new reform movement(s) enjoyed, or to prevent any such successes.

Julia Lathrop American social reformer

Julia Clifford Lathrop was an American social reformer in the area of education, social policy, and children's welfare. As director of the United States Children's Bureau from 1912 to 1922, she was the first woman ever to head a United States federal bureau.

Progressivism in the United States is a broadly based reform movement that reached its height early in the 20th century. It was middle class and reformist in nature. It arose as a response to the vast changes brought by modernization, such as the growth of large corporations, pollution and fears of corruption in American politics. In the 21st century, progressives continue to embrace concepts such as environmentalism and social justice. While the modern progressive movement may be characterized as largely secular in nature, by comparison, the historical progressive movement was to a significant extent rooted in and energized by religion.

Anti-suffragism Political movement opposing votes for women

Anti-suffragism was a political movement composed of both men and women that began in the late 19th century in order to campaign against women's suffrage in countries such as Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Anti-suffragism was a largely Classical Conservative movement that sought to keep the status quo for women and which opposed the idea giving women equal suffrage rights. It was closely associated with "domestic feminism," the belief that women had the right to complete freedom within the home. In the United States, these activists were often referred to as "remonstrants" or "antis."

Ellen Gates Starr American sociologist

Ellen Gates Starr was an American social reformer and activist. She, along with Jane Addams, founded Chicago's Hull House in 1889.

Rheta Childe Dorr American war correspondent, investigative journalist, political writer

Rheta Louise Childe Dorr (1868–1948) was an American journalist, suffragist newspaper editor, writer, and political activist. Dorr is best remembered as one of the leading female muckraking journalists of the Progressive era and as the first editor of the influential newspaper, The Suffragist.

Womens suffrage in the United Kingdom Movement to gain women the right to vote

Women's suffrage in the United Kingdom was a movement to fight for women's right to vote. It finally succeeded through two laws in 1918 and 1928. It became a national movement in the Victorian era. Women were not explicitly banned from voting in Great Britain until the Reform Act 1832 and the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. In 1872 the fight for women's suffrage became a national movement with the formation of the National Society for Women's Suffrage and later the more influential National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). As well as in England, women's suffrage movements in Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom gained momentum. The movements shifted sentiments in favour of woman suffrage by 1906. It was at this point that the militant campaign began with the formation of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).

Womans Peace Party

The Woman's Peace Party (WPP) was an American pacifist and feminist organization formally established in January 1915 in response to World War I. The organization is remembered as the first American peace organization to make use of direct action tactics such as public demonstration. The Woman's Peace Party became the American section of an international organization known as the International Committee of Women for Permanent Peace later in 1915, a group which later changed its name to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

Social feminism is a feminist movement that advocates for social rights and special accommodations for women. It was first used to describe members of the women's suffrage movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who were concerned with social problems that affected women and children. They saw obtaining the vote mainly as a means to achieve their reform goals rather than a primary goal in itself. After women gained the right to vote, social feminism continued in the form of labor feminists who advocated for protectionist legislation and special benefits for women. The term is widely used, although some historians have questioned its validity.

Maternalism is the viewpoint that incorporates a common idea of femininity and applies it as a support for women’s involvement in society.

Caroline Bartlett Crane Minister and suffragist

Caroline Bartlett Crane was an American Unitarian minister, suffragist, civic reformer, educator and journalist. She was known as "America's housekeeper" for her efforts to improve urban sanitation.

Doris Fleischman Womens rights activist

Doris Elsa Fleischman Bernays, was an American writer, public relations executive, and feminist activist. Fleischman was a member of the Lucy Stone League, a group which encouraged women to keep their names after marriage. She was the first married woman to be issued a United States passport in her maiden name, Doris Fleischman, in 1925.

Feminism and media

Woman's rights is characterized as "the regulation supporting social, political, and every single other right of ladies equivalent to those of men". Women's activists go over an assortment of sexual orientations, races, ethnic foundations, and religions. Consistently, women's activists have utilized a wide assortment of media to spread their messages. This media incorporates however isn't restricted to daily paper, writing, radio communicates, TV, online networking, and web. Without media to circulate their thoughts, woman's rights developments would not have been conceivable and could have surrendered to potential misfortunes.

The Nineteenth Century Club

The Nineteenth Century Club is a historic philanthropic and cultural women's club based in Memphis, Tennessee. The Nineteenth Century Club adopted the idea that the community was an extended "household" that would benefit from the "gentler spirit" and "uplifting influence" of women, and shifted towards civic reform. The club primarily focused on the needs of women and children, addressing public problems such as sanitation, health, education, employment, and labor conditions.

Feminism in Bangladesh seeks equal rights of women in Bangladesh through social and political change. Article 28 of Bangladesh constitution states that "Women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life".

Mary McDowell American social reformer

Mary Eliza McDowell was an American social reformer and prominent figure in the Chicago Settlement movement.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Oakley, A. (2019). Women, Peace and Welfare: a suppressed history of social reform, 1880-1920. Policy Press. OCLC   1059230664.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Addams, J. (1910). Women and public housekeeping. New York: National Woman Suffrage Pub. Co. Inc.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Gustafson, M. S. (2011). ""Good City Government is Good House-keeping": Women and Municipal Reform". Pennsylvania Legacies. 11 (2): 12–17. doi:10.5215/pennlega.11.2.0012.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Richardson, B. (2004). "Linking Stages in the Development of Applied Sociology and Women's Studies". Journal of Applied Sociology. os-21 (1): 69–83. doi:10.1177/19367244042100106.
  5. 1 2 Meltzer, P. (2009). ""The Pulse and Conscience of America": The General Federation and Women's Citizenship, 1945-1960". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 30 (3): 52–76. JSTOR   40388747.
  6. Burt, E. V. (2002). Women journalists and the municipal housekeeping movement: 1868- 1914. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 79(2), 519-520. doi: 10.1080/08821127.1997.10731927
  7. 1 2 3 4 Gottlieb, A. H. (1997). "Beyond Muckraking: Women and Municipal Housekeeping Journalism". American Journalism. 14 (3–4): 330–332. doi:10.1080/08821127.1997.10731927.
  8. Shields, P. M. (2006). "Democracy and the Social Feminist Ethics of Jane Addams: A Vision for Public Administration". Administrative Theory & Praxis. 28 (3): 418–443. doi:10.1080/10841806.2006.11029540.
  9. 1 2 3 Rynbrandt, L. J. (1997). "The "Ladies of the Club" and Caroline Bartlett Crane: Affiliation and Alienation in Progressive Social Reform". Gender & Society. 11 (2): 200–214. doi:10.1177/089124397011002004.
  10. Haslanger, S. (2016). Jane Addams's "Women and Public Housekeeping". In Schliesser, E. (Ed.), Ten Neglected Classics of Philosophy (pp. 148–176). Oxford University Press.
  11. 1 2 3 Sivulka, J. (1999). "From Domestic to Municipal Housekeeper: The Influence of the Sanitary Reform Movement on Changing Women's Roles in America, 1860-1920". The Journal of American Culture. 22 (4): 1–7. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734x.1999.2204_1.x.
  12. Lewis, T (2011). "Municipal Housekeeping in the American West: Bertha Knight Landes's Entrance into Politics". Rhetoric & Public Affairs. 14 (3): 465–491. doi:10.1353/rap.2011.0027.
  13. 1 2 Blair, K. J. (1984). "Education and Reform in Buffalo Women's Clubs, 1876-1914". Urban Education. 18 (4): 452–462. doi:10.1177/004208598401800408.
  14. Carruthers, C. K., & Wanamaker, M. H. (2015). Municipal Housekeeping the Impact of Women's Suffrage on Public Education. Journal of Human Resources,50 (4), 837–872.
  15. Endres, K. L. (1997). "Muckraking". American Journalism. 14 (3–4): 333–335. doi:10.1080/08821127.1997.10731928.
  16. 1 2 Gottlieb, A. H. (1994). "The Reform Year At Hampton's: The Magazine Journalism of Rheta Childe Dorr, 1909-1912". The Electronic Journal of Communication. 4: 2–4.