The Family and Social Trends: Chronology

views updated

1750-1914: The Family and Social Trends: Chronology




  • During the later European Enlightenment, philosophers reject unquestioned obedience to tradition and religion and advocate new social relationships, especially within the family. These writers, mostly men, argue that women should follow their natural destinies as mothers and domestic managers, roles that became hallmarks of Victorian-era mother-hood in the nineteenth century.


  • The average marriage age rises steadily in Europe. By the mid nineteenth century the average age for men is twenty-seven, and women average twenty-four.


  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau publishes his novel Emile, which is almost immediately popular and helps to begin a new wave of interest in the natural development of children.


  • An evangelical movement within the Anglican Church helps to affirm a new middle-class identity based on maintaining “separate spheres” for men (public life) and women (home life).


  • The French Revolutionary government begins to institute a series of pathbreaking legal changes. It outlaws lettres de cachet, warrants by which an individual could be imprisoned without trial. The age of majority is lowered to twenty-one years, and all children are made eligible for equal inheritance. Marriage becomes a civil act, and divorce is legalized. At nearly the same time, a reaction sets in against women’s participation in politics and public life.
  • Mary Wollstonecraft publishes A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.


  • French feminist Olympe de Gouges, author of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen (1791), and Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, are both executed for treason.


  • Thomas Malthus publishes An Essay on the Principles of Population, arguing that human population growth will naturally correct itself through famine and disease.


  • The illegitimacy rate in Europe soars as young people migrate to urban areas and put off marriage until their later years. Some historians have estimated that as many as 15 to 20 percent of all births were out of wedlock.


  • French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte institutes the Civil Code in territories under French control. Although the principle of equal inheritance is maintained, many other legal changes enacted in 1792 and 1793 are overturned, including the ability of women to obtain a divorce and to control the property she brings into a marriage.


  • Labeled “utopian socialists” by more-radical critics, social reformers such as Charles Fourier, Suzanne Voilquin, and Claude-Henri de Rouvroy, Comte de Saint-Simon, plan and attempt to create alternative forms of social organization based on cooperative economies and gender equity.


  • Throughout Europe legislation is passed to limit work hours and establish minimum ages for children employed in factories and other industries.


  • Instigated by Caroline Norton’s Natural Claim of a Mother to the Custody of Her Child (1837), the Infant Custody Act is passed in the United Kingdom, giving mothers rights to their children under seven years of age.


  • During the Great Irish Famine some families die of starvation. Many others are left impoverished and are evicted from their homes by property owners. The famine sparks a major immigration to the Americas.


  • Amid Europe-wide political and social upheaval, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels publish The Communist Manifesto. In one important section of their pamphlet, these radical socialists argue that a socialist revolution will require a reorganization of the family, in which the entire community will collectively care for the children.


  • In England the Langham Place Group, led by Barbara Smith Bodichon, presses for property reform and women’s rights over their property.


  • A Russian medical-reform movement emerges to teach modern birthing techniques to rural midwives, called povitukhi. By 1905 more than fifty schools have been established throughout Russia, but most Russian children are still born in unsanitary environments.


  • Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management is published. A compilation of her magazine articles about women and domestic work, the book is an instant success.


  • Many European women have begun to give birth in hospitals, where sanitary conditions are often far worse than at home, the traditional location for births throughout preindustrial Europe. In 1866 thirty-four women of every one thousand who give birth in hospitals die, as compared to just under five of every one thousand whose babies are delivered at home.


  • Philosopher John Stuart Mill, a member of the British Parliament, conducts an unsuccessful campaign for women’s suffrage.


  • Mill publishes On the Subjection of Women, which becomes one of the most respected examples of nineteenth-century liberal political philosophy.


  • After decades of petitions and rallies for change, Parliament passes the Married Women’s Property Act.


  • Growing numbers of children attend state-sponsored schools, especially between the ages of five and ten years old. As a result, literacy rates increase for adults throughout Europe.


  • Two major theoretical works on the family and political organization—August Bebel’s Women and Socialism (1879) and Friedrich Engels’s Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884)—argue that the origins of patriarchy lie in the establishment of private property.


  • The Contagious Disease Acts are repealed by the British Parliament. British feminists, led by Josephine Butler, have criticized the acts for creating a double standard by which poor women were prosecuted for resorting to prostitution while their male clients were ignored.


  • Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House has its premiere on the London stage, causing a stir among feminists and antifeminists alike. In Germany and other European countries, Ibsen’s conclusion—in which the middle-class heroine leaves her husband—is deemed too controversial and changed in theaters where the play is per-formed.


  • Swedish author Ellen Key publishes The Century of the Child, capping more than 150 years of increased attention to children and signaling their centrality in the family for the twentieth century.


  • More than 250 British government inspectors handle more than 50,000 complaints registered with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

About this article

The Family and Social Trends: Chronology

Updated About content Print Article