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The phrase 'A woman's place is in the home' - meaning and origin.

The meaning and origin of the expression: Women's place is in the home

A woman's place is in the home

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Women's place is in the home'?

The proverb 'A women's place is in the home' is now rarely used with its original literal meaning. These days it is more often used ironically if someone suggests that women are best suited to domestic employment.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Women's place is in the home'?

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This notion has been expressed in a variety of forms by numerous people over the ages, all of them men of course. The proper proverbial place for a woman is usually expressed as 'the home' but is and has been also said to be 'the family' and 'the kitchen'.

The ancient Greeks got in there first. The playwright Aeschylus, in Seven Against Thebes, 467 B.C., wrote:

Let women stay at home and hold their peace.

Of course, Aeschylus wrote in Greek and the above is a much later translation. The unambiguous nature of the thought being expressed doesn't leave much room for interpretation and we can be assured that the English version means pretty much what the Greek dramatist originally said.

Moving into sources written in English, we find Thomas Fuller's Gnomologia: A Collection of the Proverbs, Maxims and Adages That Inspired Benjamin Franklin and Poor Richard's Almanack, 1732:

A Woman is to be from her House three times: when she is Christened, Married and Buried.

Again, rather an unequivocal view of where women should spend their time. It isn't until the 19th century that we begin to see examples of the form 'A woman's place...'. The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, Volume 97, 1825 had a 'family' version:

A woman's place is in the bosom of her family; her thoughts ought seldom to emerge from it.

In 1832, The New Sporting Magazine, Volume 3, included the earliest example of 'a woman's place is in the home' that I can find in print:

A woman's place is her own home, and not her husband's countinghouse.

A 'kitchen' variant is found in Hetty Morrison's early feminist tract My Summer in the Kitchen, 1878:

Accepting ourselves at the valuation of such men as these, that woman's place is in the kitchen, or, to word it more ambitiously, that "woman is the queen of the home," the right I ask for is that we be allowed to reign undisputed there.

This old proverb was considered to be a literal truth when it was first coined and we now (mostly) think differently. As recently as the 1950s, in the UK at least, married women weren't considered suitable for employment. Women who worked in the Civil Service were required to resign when they married.

Times change and with them our proverbs. In November 1970, Time magazine printed a piece titled Newcomers in the House. Bella Abzug campaigned for office in the US Congress using the slogan "This woman’s place is in the House... the House of Representatives."

See also: the List of Proverbs.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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