Marriage in Early 19th Century US

Diary, and Letters from a Marriage, is a look into the lives of Henry and Mary Lee. They were a well off family living in Boston in early 19th century. The selections written by Mary and Henry, give a glimpse of their marriage and lives through a reverse of wealth, a loss of a child and time spent apart while Henry goes to India to regain their wealth. Henry’s trip is extended because of the war of 1812, and we can see Mary’s attitude change of the distant relationship and her roles as a wife. Throughout history wives have had many different roles in the family.

Today women are encourage to have careers outside of the house hold and have equal responsibility of raising their children as the father. In early American history the husband and wife would work side by side to get things done to survive. In the case for Mary Lee’s time, they had a much different role. In the early 19th century the wife’s job was to educate the children and take care of the house and create a sanctuary for her husband. Mary viewed her role in the family differently than the social norms. She wanted to work while her husband was away.

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Mary also wanted other women to be educated. Mary Lee lived in a time where marriage was becoming more about mutual love and not just for family or economical reasons. Wives were expected to remain at home and take care and support her husband. This was also a time where mothers were still been given the responsibility of republican motherhood. This meant that the mother’s role was to raise new republicans to ensure the future of the young United States. This was the societal norm of women but Mary was living in a much different world.

Mary’s world has been shaped by her life, it was the early 19th century and her views were already liberally different, she thought that women should be educated. She shared her view with her sister, Hannah Lowell, when she wrote, “I think it will certainly be best to leave them [your children]; you cannot think of interrupting your studies by taking them with you” (110). Mary wants her sister to be able to study in peace and shows her view of importance of education. The most influential experiences that has shaped Mary’s world were her two life altering events.

These events were when Mary and her husband Henry lost their child and Henry going to India for work. When their child died, Mary was looking for an escape from her feelings and she looked for employment to do so. “…I ought not to allow this feeling, and you may be sure I will in time conquer it. I have still much to do for myself and others, and in employment will seek relief” (111). Mary recognizes that without her child there supporting her husband is not enough for her to keep her occupied.

When Mr. Lee had to go to India for work, Mary wasn’t completely left alone because she was at home with their second child, Molly. As time passed taking care of social appearances and Molly left her wanting more to manage. Mary wanted to help her husband and didn’t want to just live the life of ease that Henry was supplying her of. “I think I should be better satisfied if I were obliged daily to make some efforts…I know not why the wife should not work a little…” (112).

In another journal entry a few days later Mary expresses how happy she is to be employed. The longer Mr. Lee was in India; Mary’s attitude would begin to change. This especially occurred with Molly getting older. In 1814, Mary just wanted her husband back home so she could have some importance of being at home. Mary started to lean towards the societal norm as time passed. Mary’s views of women’s roles were forward thinking of her time. Her views have been shaped by life events and the significant belief of the importance of education.

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