Linda Kerber, “Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History”

Kerber’s pieces is an historiographical essay on the concept of “separate sphere” in the telling of women’s history. She identifies 3 stages of the understanding of separate spheres, from the early work of Barbara Welter, Gerda Lerner, and Aileen S. Kraditor that focused on identifying separate spheres as a central theme of women’s experience, through the work of Carroll Smith-Rosenberg and Nancy Cott that focused introduced complexities and the possibilities of women’s culture, to what Kerber identifies as the current 3rd stage that focuses both on how the women’s sphere was “socially constructed both for and by women” and how women’s sphere affected and shaped men’s activities (169-171).

She also notes three characteristics of the 3rd (and current) stage of the use of the metaphor of separate spheres. These are 1) that the concept of “separate spheres” is applicable across the history of human experience, that it’s not just a 19th century phenomena, 2) that it is characterized by more attention to social relations and sees separate spheres as changing response to changing social and economic realities (175) and 3) that attention is being payed to the literal spaces women occupied and shaped.