Stepping out of the Shadows: Alabama Women, 1819-1990

By Mary Martha Thomas | Go to book overview

4
Amelia Gayle Gorgas A Victorian Mother

SARAH WOOLFOLK WIGGINS

"Love is the principle of existence and its only end." On this belief Amelia Gayle Gorgas based her life, wrote her son William Crawford. She "liberally showered" love upon everyone around her, first on family and friends and then on those associated with her public career.1 The key to her success in both realms was that she felt unselfish, loving "sympathy for everyone with whom she came in contact, and roused the same feeling in them."2

Amelia's lifetime, 1826-1913, spanned the Victorian era, when the role of women and the functions of the family changed dramatically. Now production moved out of the home, and the family was no longer an "enterprise or the world in microcosm." Instead, the family became a refuge from the world. Husbands went out to work in the world, and wives stayed home to cherish the children and prepare them for the difficulties of adulthood and to create for the husband a sanctuary in which to recuperate from the stress of work. These two realms of labor and activity represented two spheres--"man's world" and "woman's place." The arrangement's success hinged on the woman's willingness to sacrifice her personal preferences to the well-being of others. Amelia epitomized the selfless keeper of the home sphere in the Gorgas family.3

Amelia came from "Old Guard" Mobile. Her paternal and maternal ancestors included distinguished Revolutionary War veterans. Her father, John Gayle, was an Alabama governor, congressman, and judge; her mother, Sarah Haynsworth Gayle, a great beauty, descended from an equally distinguished South Carolina family.4

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