The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities

By Dolores Hayden | Go to book overview
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Free Lovers, Individual Sovereigns, and Integral Cooperators

Recruitment of a Radical

Melusina Fay Peirce lobbied for cooperative housekeeping, but an extremely conventional sense of Victorian propriety lay behind her insistence that women's "pure and elevating feminine influence" should prevail in a world threatened by "desire" and "lust." Marie Stevens Howland (5.1), Peirce's exact contemporary and an equally powerful critic of the isolated household, took an opposite view of traditional sexual morality, calling "the loss of respectability as defined by hypocrites and prudes," a woman's first step toward "broad sympathies for humanity." 1 I While Peirce moved among the literary and intellectual luminaries of Cambridge and Boston, Howland associated with cultural radicals, trade unionists, sex reformers, and socialists in France, the United States, and Mexico. She lived in many experimental communities, and in between campaigns for cooperative housekeeping, she painted quotations from Fourier on her doors.

Despite her unconventional lifestyle, Howland knew what it meant to earn her living. Like Peirce, she believed in economic independence for women. Her first proposal for cooperative housekeeping involved an ideal factory, making the workplace rather than the residential neighborhood the focus of these activities. For her economic independence required not only cooperative housekeeping services for employed women, but also scientific child care. In the 1880s Howland collaborated on the first plan for a city of kitchenless houses and apartment hotels with extensive child care facilities, developing some of the urban implications of these new forms of domestic organization.

Born in 1836 in Lebanon, New Hampshire, Marie Stevens became a radical when she moved to Lowell, Massachusetts, in her early teens, finding work to support her two younger sisters after her father's death. 2 Lowell, founded in 1821, was "the city of spindles," admired by many European visitors. The owners of this industrial town recruited Yankee farm women, boasted about the operatives' contentment, and hailed the opportunities for selfimprovement available to them through literary circles and lending libraries. Women operatives were housed in substantial brick boardinghouses, whose sober and well-proportioned facades hid crowded accommodations (5.2). Boardinghouse keepers enforced a strict work regimen, promptness at meals, and weekly religious observance.

As Thomas Dublin has noted, "The central institution in the female community was the corporation boarding house," and "the boarding house, with an average of twenty-five female boarders sleeping four to six in a bedroom, was above all a collective living situation." The boardinghouse residents developed unusual social and political cohesion, which supported their involvement in the strikes of the 1830s and 1840s. The boardinghouses, as "focal points of female labor protest," according


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The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities


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