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History of Fatherhood in the United States: 1700’s to Early 1900’s

By Ron Mattocks |

After yesterday’s post about Roman Krznaric’s essay on the history of the men as fathers, I decided to do a little research on my own; being a self-professed history nerd, I didn’t require much arm-twisting to do so either. Unlike Krznaric’s broader worldwide focus, I decided to hone in on just the progression of fatherhood in the United States, and what I discovered was surprising.

Most of us are familiar with the major events in history—the colonization of early America, the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, World War 2, and so on.  What many of us may have not considered, however, was the part these events played in shaping the image and expectation we have of fathers today, which, when looked at through a lens of the past 300-plus years in its entirety, is slightly off in my opinion.

What’s more, when looking through that lens, keep in mind that many of the perceptions we’ve had of family dynamics throughout history are incorrect or only half-truths. For example, the idea of colonial fathers being an austere, unfeeling, authoritarian ordained by God isn’t entirely accurate. Did religious dogma dictate that the man was to be the head of the household? Yes, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t warm and unloving. We only see it as being so because such an arrangement seem archaic and stifling within the context of our contemporary society—a society that has morphed over three centuries at the hands of ever shifting socio-economic conditions and world-changing events beyond our control.

To get a true picture of this progression of fatherhood through time, there was no way I could fit everything into ten slides; thus the presentation is split into two parts (and even then it’s still probably not enough).

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History of Fatherhood in the United States: 1700 to 1910

1. Colonial Fatherhood

Family dynamics followed a patriarchal structure with the father as the head of the home. This reflected the “Great Chain of Being” ideology which viewed everything as being bound by a line of authority and subordination which extended from God on down the chain—a view reinforced by the Protestant Reformation. Home and work duties are closely aligned. Fathers are more involved with the family, especially after birth. They teach the children to read and write. Parenting manuals are addressed to men.


You can find Part 2 HERE

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Ron Mattocks is a father of five (3 sons, 2 stepdaughters) and author of the book, Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka. He blogs at Clark Kent’s Lunchbox, and lives in Houston with his wife, Ashley, who eternally mocks his fervor for Coldplay.

Photo Credits: Wiki Commons (#4 Brian Standsberry)

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About Ron Mattocks


Ron Mattocks

Ron Mattocks is a freelance writer, author of Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka, and a father of five. In 2007, Mattocks started Clark Kent’s Lunchbox, which landed him in Babble's Top 50 Dad Bloggers list in 2011. Mattocks was a regular contributor to Babble, and has been featured in The Huffington Post, Open Salon and a number of other publications.

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2 thoughts on “History of Fatherhood in the United States: 1700’s to Early 1900’s

  1. Kolya says:

    Hey! Those job application forms were tcaered by people who didn’t have more than one language in their countries. You put down whatever you feel like putting down .they have no references to judge your decision. I have even tcaered additional sections that apply to my situation,wich nobody thought of just because they aren’t immigrants. Good luck with your job hunting!

  2. DSP Dixie says:

    We love Fathers at!

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