In western Europe and the United States, the number of farmworkers dropped, but many families still worked the land. The rural population was higher in eastern and southern Europe, where industrialization was more limited.

Middle Class Values

By midcentury, the growing middle class had developed its own way of life. A strict code of etiquette governed social behavior.

Rules dictated how to dress for every occasion, how to give a dinner party, how to pay a social call, when to write letters, and how long to mourn for relatives who had died.

Parents strictly supervised their children, who were expected to be “seen but not heard.” A child who misbehaved was considered to reflect badly on the entire family. Servants, too, were seen as a reflection of their employers. Even a small middle-class household was expected to have at least a cook and a housemaid.

The Ideal Home and Family

Middle-class families tended to include just the nuclear family, parents and children, rather than the larger extended families of the past. They lived in a large house, or perhaps one of the new apartment houses. Rooms were crammed with large, overstuffed furniture. Clothing reflected middle-class tastes for luxury and respectability.

Within the family, the division of labor between wife and husband changed. Earlier, middle-class women had helped run family businesses out of the home.

By the later 1800s, most middle-class husbands went to work in an office or shop. A successful husband was one who earned enough to keep his wife at home. Women spent their time raising children, directing servants, and doing religious or charitable service.

Books, magazines, and popular songs supported a cult of domesticity that idealized women and the home. Women and girls stitched sayings like “home, sweet home” into needlework that was hung on parlor walls. The ideal woman was seen as a tender, self-sacrificing caregiver who provided a nest for her children and a peaceful refuge for her husband to escape from the hardships of the working world.

This ideal rarely applied to the bottom rungs of the social ladder. Lower-middle-class women might work alongside their husbands in stores. Working-class women labored for low pay in garment factories or worked as domestic servants. Young women might leave domestic service after they married, but often had to seek other employment. Despite long days working for wages, they were still expected to take full responsibility for child care and homemaking.

The Struggle for Women's Rights

Some individual women and women's groups protested restrictions on women's lives. They sought a broad range of rights. Across Europe and the United States, politically active women campaigned for fairness in marriage, divorce, and property laws. Women's groups also supported the temperance movement, a campaign to limit or ban the use of alcoholic beverages. Temperance leaders pointed out that drinking threatened family life. They also argued that banning alcohol would create a more productive and efficient workforce.

These reformers faced many obstacles. In Europe and the United States, women could not vote. They were barred from most schools and had little, if any, protection under the law. A woman's husband or father controlled all of her property.

Photo of a hallway with unfinished brick and wooden doors, occupied by a group of people wearing hats, coats and scarves.

In industrialized cities, many members of the working class lived in tenement buildings like this.


What can you infer about working-class life from the way these people are dressed indoors?

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments