Doctrine of Separate Spheres Discussion/April-May 1998

[Ed. Note: There are several discussions on the H-Women website re: the origin of spheres, separate spheres, et al. Please check in the bibliography and discussion thread sections for helpful material. The following two queries are posted together due to their relevance to each other.]

Query From Lisa Cochran 14 April 1998

While most of the discussions of separate spheres in 19th century American culture focus on gendered spheres, I have noticed that the term "sphere" is often used in 19th century texts to refer to other dualisms (such as the sphere of intellect vs. sentiment, the sphere of the city vs. the country).

Does anyone know where these other uses of the term "sphere" come from philosophically or where I might look for more information? Has anyone else noticed the term used to separate dualisms? Granted, many of these other uses are gendered as well; what I am hoping to find is the ostensibly philosophical basis for using the term so ubiquitously and with such certainty.

From Lauren Clark 27 April 1998

Dear Ms. Cochran:

I am writing to inquire if you received any information about the origins of the concept of "spheres?" I thought you asked an excellent question. I have come across the term many times in doing papers on women's history. I am currently writing my Masters thesis on German women in the Vormarz era (1815-1850) and "women's sphere" has come up in a European context. I have searched back through my references where the term is used. I even combed some of the late 18th and early 19th century philosophical texts. To no avail. If you do find anything, please post on the list, whether it pertains to women's spheres or other uses of the term. I will keep looking as I am eager to know the answer to this one.

From Lisa A Cochran 28 April 1998

No, I haven't received any information on my query re: the philosophical basis for the use of "sphere" in 19th century literature/culture. I'm guessing it is linked to western culture's emphasis on dualisms (the spheres are usually in pairs, it seems). I also want to look into Rousseau's Social Contract theory to see if he uses the term to designate separate spheres for more than just gender roles. If anyone out there comes up with anything, please let me know!

Query From Janet Gray 14 May 1998

A friend asked me: "Where does the doctrine of separate spheres *come* from?" She isn't satisfied with general discussions of industrialization, enlightenment, etc. I had never thought of 'separate spheres' as an invention or a coinage, but it occurred to me it was an interesting question.

Can list members offer titles that you find best articulate the sources of the doctrine of separate spheres? Does anyone know when the phrase itself was coined? Thanks.


From Marylu Hill 15 May 1998

Although I'm sure the concept (and probably the term) is older, there are three authors in the nineteenth century who define separate spheres in ways that still impact on the women's movement today. You might want to look at John Ruskin's essay "Of Queens' Gardens" in Sesame and Lilies, Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Princess" and Coventry Patmore's poem "The Angel in the House." Even though Ruskin and Tennyson, at least, are arguably setting up some very interesting role models at the same time for women in these works, they are frequently quoted as and blamed for the notion of the separation of the spheres.