UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The lives of girls and women in mid-nineteenth century Pictou County, Nova Scotia Pickles, Catherine Gillian


Much research in historical geography has ignored women’s experiences. Using archival sources and secondary literature, this thesis exposes the lives of girls and women in mid-nineteenth century Nova Scotia, with the case study of Pictou County. After an introduction to the perspective of the thesis and the context of Nova Scotia, specifically Pictou County, the chapters are divided into the life - stages of girls and women. The stages of girlhood, young womanhood, womanhood and widowhood each formed an ideological set of prevalent ideas and behaviours in the mid-nineteenth century. Childhood was a time of beginnings and learning to be a girl. Young womanhood was a time of transition, spent developing skills, and commencing courting practices in preparation for womanhood. Womanhood was the time to put learned skills into effect, fulfilling the role of a wife and mother in the warmth of the home. Widowhood was a time of potential freedom, but also of uncertainty, and, often, dependence. These stages also corresponded to spatial changes. Young women moved home upon marriage, and widows often moved to a room in their old house, or to a new location. An overall impression of the lives of girls and women emerges in which there are overriding similarities in conformity to the ideology of the mid-nineteenth century concept of the "spheres”. The public and private spheres were ideological as well as actual divisions of labour and behaviour believed to mirror women’s “innate" capacity as homemakers and carers of the family. However, the division between the public sphere of masculinity, objectivity, trade, commerce and government and the private sphere of femininity, subjectivity, the home and care, was artificial. The public sphere would not have been able to exist without the work of women in the home, and the realities of women's lives were much more complex than the ideology of the spheres credited them with being.

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