American social life was shaped by Victorian values for much of the 19th century. The male sphere included wage work and politics, while the female sphere involved childrearing and domestic work.
Industrialization and urbanization challenged Victorian values. Men wanted leisure time beyond work. Educated women were still denied jobs in many professions. Victorian values were foreign to many immigrants. Life was about to change.
Victoria Battles the Victorians
Young, single, city-dwelling middle-class women were leading the change. Attitudes toward sex were loosening in private.
In 1871, feminist Victoria Woodhull claimed the inalienable right to love the person of her choice. She protested the male domination of politics by running for President in 1872, even though women did not have the right to vote. She became the first female American to run for the top office.
The Comstock Law
The change was met with a strong reaction as Victorians fought to maintain their view of morality. Congress passed the Comstock Law, which banned all mailings of materials of a sexual nature. Named for Anthony Comstock, a special agent for the U.S. Postal Service, the new law enabled the confiscation of thousands of books and pictures declared objectionable. Over 3,000 arrests were made for violations of the Comstock Law.
America was evolving. The public struggle between Victoria Woodhull and Anthony Comstock illustrate the tensions between old and new values. The Victorians could not stop the changes.
Source: Victorian Values in a New Age
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