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Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790-1865 (Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Modern History) Paperback – November 25, 1983

ISBN-13: 978-0521274036 ISBN-10: 0521274036

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Product Details

  • Series: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Modern History
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (November 25, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521274036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521274036
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Book Description

Winner of the 1981 Bancroft Prize. Focusing primarily on the middle class, this study delineates the social, intellectual and psychological transformation of the American family from 1780-1865. Examines the emergence of the privatized middle-class family with its sharp division of male and female roles.

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 24, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ryan's Cradle of the Middle Class broke new ground when it was published in '81, forcing historians to rethink the rise of the middle class, placing it into its historical context and at the same time arguing that the retreat to the middle-class home was a choice, for both men and women. Often held up as a classic of women's history, what makes this book amazing is that it's also pioneering in men's history, examining the effect of the domestic sphere on both boys and girls, men and women, and the social, cultural, economic and religious forces that led to their identification with the domestic sphere as the source of moral strength. Ryan gives a clear view of the complex interactions of economic and political change with personal relationships, literature and other social factors in creating the idea of the 'middle class.' She uses a wide variety of sources, including private letters and personal portraits which give oyu an idea of the real people who made these decisions, and it's becautifully organized & well written. For anyone interested in an academic book examining the middle class, the domestic sphere, or the family in the 19th century, this is a great read-- I've read it three times for different graduate classes, and I still like it (and THAT'S a compliment...) :)
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on January 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
When Mary P. Ryan's local study of the transformation of Oneida County, New York, from an agricultural to an industrial society appeared in 1981 it sparked a debate about the nature of the American family that has yet to abate. Ryan argues that changes in family structure as a result of this economic transformation created the Victorian culture of the latter half of the nineteenth century. She offers a complex, and richly drawn, exploration of how the family moved from the farm to the factory. It is, without question, an important consideration of changes n the American family and the costs of those changes. The movement from the patriarchal society of an agricultural society to one that was industrial and commercial altered the perspectives of both men and women. She suggests that in the agricultural society of the early Republic, the family rested on the use of "productive property, a domestic division of labor, and generational continuity" (p. 231).

With the rise of a new economy, and the changes it necessitated, Ryan insists that there was a bifurcation of gender roles that emphasized a cult of domesticity for women as well as a male-oriented "bread-winner" emphasis. The middle class, the focus of this study, reflected these changes more dramatically than other segments of the population and Ryan explores this in some detail. She comments that the social reform movements of the antebellum era also fundamentally influenced the construction of this new middle class society.

Ryan notes several key changes to the nuclear family that resulted from this dynamic. First, she found a change in the mother-child relationship as the "central place in the constellation of family affection" and a lessening role of the father in child-rearing (p. 233).
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In her book Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790-1865, Mary Ryan examines how the collapse of the cooperative economic systems imbedded within late 18th century frontier families fundamentally changed, not only the family, but the function of community and the role of religion, and ultimately gave rise to the "middling class" in the face of increasing nineteenth-century industrialization. Looking at a variety of historical artifacts; including city directories, newspapers, census information, church records, and private letters, Ryan uses the transformation of Oneida County, New York, from an agricultural to industrial society, to postulate that the rise of the "middling class" was a direct consequence of the changes to the family structure caused by the lack of land available for the third and fourth generations. This idea contrasts with the more "accepted" historical scholarship, which states that the middle class developed as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution. Although Ryan recognizes that industrialization was the realm in which the middle class functioned, the changes occurring in the role and structure of the family, before industrialization, were more critical to the formation of the middle class than industrialization itself was.

This lack of farm land, with which fathers could successfully establish their sons, caused the complete breakdown of the cooperative family economy that had been established during the initial "pioneering" stage of settlement. In this system, every member of the family was expected to contribute something tangible to the family economy, including mothers and children, while working in the closed confines of the home.
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