Decoding the Myths of Asa Packer, 1805?-1879

Sarah Packer and Victorian Womanhood

Victorian society had strict preferences regarding the nuclear family. In many ways, the Packer's exemplified the ideal Victorian family: the successful and religious husband/father-Asa Packer and the devoted and domestic wife/mother-Sarah Packer. Their relationship from the start is consistent with Victorian ideals of hard work and familial devotion within their separate roles as man and woman.

Asa Packer marries Sarah Blakslee in January, 1828, while working as a carpenter in Susquenhanna County, PA. Shortly after they marry, Asa quits carpentry and pursues a career in agriculture. His time as a farmer proved to be very difficult for the future millionaire, as their failing crops left them very poor. However, their recorded work ethic and adherence to Victorian ideals of family was considered admirable to those who heard of their story, "The couple soon settled on a farm, where the young wife proved herself a helpmate indeed. While the husband plowed his field, gathered his crops, or plied his trade at such desultory work as the neighbors needed, the wife administered her household affairs with cheerfulness, energy, neatness, and economy, and made their home a model of comfort and happiness" (Hungerford). The depiction of Sarah's role as a mother and wife is consistent with the Victorian ideal of the Cult of Domesticity.

The Cult of Domesticity is a Victorian value system that outlines the woman's role as a member of society. This is a result of the increasing separation of the home space and the work space due to industrialization. As men began to work more outside of the home, women began to have to have more control over domestic affairs. The Cult of Domesticity emphasizes what was considered feminine virtues such as purity, domesticity, submissiveness, and religious piety. These ideas were mostly popular among the upper and middle classes both in the United States and in Great Britain during this time period. Women were understood as having moral superiority, therefore fit to lead to head the activities of the personal sphere. Conversely, men were head of the public sphere, and were considered superior in intellect, logic, and in all other spheres outside of the home.

In relation to the Packer's, Sarah's portrayal as the ideal Victorian woman serves to further canonize Asa Packer as the ideal man of his time. By having a dutiful wife, Asa Packer gains even more respect because of his adherence to cultural values.


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