DOMESTICITY WITH A DIFFERENCE
The most important implications of the domesticity prescribed by Beecher, Hale, Fuller and Fern are contained in their texts that critique the economic and legal inequities of traditional heterosexual marriage and family organization. Their revisions of heterosexual domesticity addressed the concerns of women in an era marked by high death rates and volatile economic circumstances, when a white, middle-class woman's conformity to the patterns of normative domesticity might be interrupted at any time by widowhood and/or economic disaster. As hedges against these possibilities, each of these writers explored domestic and affectional configurations that would accommodate women like themselves -- upper-middle-class, self-sufficient, and excessive "women of genius" who did not marry, as well as those who were widowed or divorced. The alternate domestic arrangements they proposed echoed dominant patterns of domesticity, while offering the women who entered them respectability equal to that of their middle-class sisters and the emotional sustenance that was ideal but often in fact missing from heterosexual marriage. At the same time these arrangements would protect a single woman's rights of self-determination and financial independence.
These writers learned early that intellectual feminine subjectivity might be nurtured outside patriarchal families by women who were neither married nor "natural" mothers. And as adults who reached their majority in an era marked by utopian experiments with family structures, they made significant personal experiments with alternate affectional and family structures, either choosing emotional relationships with other women, or significantly modifying traditional expectations of marriage. These affiliations were not, however, merely the result of private circumstance; rather, they were