Archives for posts with tag: Domesticity

Toys can often tell more about a culture and its values than they initially let on. We control what we market, and more specifically who we market to. In stores, it is not difficult to separate the toys meant for boys from those meant for girls. There distinct and subtle indicators that alert the customer to items that are gender specific. The Easy-Bake Oven is a popular toy that has appeared in different forms throughout the years.[1] Due to imagery associated with its advertising, as well as a gender specific color scheme, this item is obviously intended for girls rather than boys. Closer examination of the Easy-Bake Oven gives insight into modern gender equality issues that the Women’s Rights Movement have been combating for years. Although women gained the right to vote in New York in 1917, they continue to battle misguided beliefs and traditional gender stereotypes in their pursuit of true equality. The belief that an oven, and by extension domestic life, is best suited for women is a sign that we have not made as many strides in our search for equality as we might think.

Easy-Bake Oven 2009

(Fig.1) Easy-Bake Oven, 2009, plastic, 14″ x 7″ x 8″. (Cooperstown Graduate Program), Cooperstown, New York, T2013.078.1a.

This 2009 example of an Easy-Bake Oven (Fig.1) features many similar design choices to a previous model from 1963 (Fig.2). While the shape of the oven has changed, there are certain visual traits that have remained in both the object itself and its packaging. One of the most notable features are the colors used in both models of the Easy-Bake Oven. Viewers can immediately note that the colors are lighter in shade. Turquoise blues appear on the body of both ovens, and pink features on the box of the 2009 model. These colors, especially pink, would indicate that these items are intended for girls only. Pink is considered a feminine color, and would therefore classify the Easy-Bake Oven as a “girl toy”.[2]  In addition, the visual materials of the 2009 Easy-Bake Oven, such as the box (Fig.3), exclusively depict girls playing with the toy. If it was not clear before, this would undoubtedly confirm who was playing with an Easy-Bake Oven.

Easy-Bake Oven 1963

(Fig.2) Easy-Bake Oven, circa 1963, plastic, 21″ x 16″ x 8.25″. (Cooperstown Graduate Program), Cooperstown, New York, T2013.079.1.


Easy-Bake Oven Box 2009.jpg

(Fig.3) Easy-Bake Oven, 2009, cardboard, 16″ x 8″ x 9″. (Cooperstown Graduate Program), Cooperstown, New York, T2013.078.3.

While we like to think that we have made advances in our search for universal equality between 1963 and 2009, we continue to tell girls they belong at home by tailoring toys that perpetuate and condition them to this stereotype. The prominence of toys geared towards young girls that promote domestic life indicate that we still believe those should be the spheres they inhabit. We continue to force our children into outdated gender roles, and enforce these beliefs with the toys we market and purchase for them. They lack of change in our mentality towards the Easy-Bake Oven and what it represents illustrates the work still required regarding gender equality.

By: Michael Barone

[1] “Easy-Bake Oven,” The Strong National Museum of Play: National Toy Hall of Fame,

[2] Erica S. Weisgram, Megan Fulcher, Lisa M. Dinella, “Pink gives girls permission: Exploring the roles of explicit gender labels and gender-typed colors on preschool children’s toy preferences,” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 35(2014): 402.


The idiom, “slaving over a hot stove,” conjures an image of a woman finishing dinner before the man returns from work. In the 19th century, during the advent of catalog shopping and door-to-door salesmen, retail stores and appliance companies certainly advertised household items toward women to create the ideal housewife. However, as much as stoves represented housewifery and ideas of servitude, it expanded women’s roles in society, consequently providing an opportunity for the growth of the New Woman, who became involved in the suffrage movement.

Eclipse Stove

Eclipse Cast-Iron Stove, 19th century, Eclipse Stove Company, iron, H: 21″ x W: 20″ x D: 9″. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Donation of Amelia D. Bielaski, Amelia D. Bielaski Estate Collection, N0162.1979. Photograph by Brielle Cameron. 

This miniature Eclipse cast-iron stove, perhaps a salesman’s model, offers a glimpse into how and why a simple stove design left such a lasting impact on women. This miniature includes a frying pan, coal bucket, teakettle, and kettle bucket, all in the hopes of selling a real one to a housewife. The sleek design and ornamentation contributed to its desirability as it conveyed wealth without the lofty price tag. [1]

With this new stove, a wife cooked more food in a shorter amount of time, much to the delight of her working husband. Appearing in catalogs, such as Sears Roebuck, stores marketed the stove toward housewives, giving them ownership over the domestic sphere with the time to complete other household tasks. [2] Efficient and economical, the cast-iron stove quickly replaced hearths in households. Unintended by the producers of the stove, those two characteristics made it possible for women to move away from domesticity and into expanded roles.

In the late 19th century, women began to break free of societal expectations and conventional roles. Often labeled as the New Woman by historians, these women received a higher education and realized they did not necessarily want the life of a wife and mother. Thus, the New Woman moved into settlement homes with others who shared the same values. [3] They entered the workforce either in factories, business or teaching professions. Their expanded role lead to an increased awareness of the pitfalls of American society against women. Correspondingly, the New Woman was often synonymous with the growing suffrage movement.

Though no longer confined to the home, cooking was still part of daily life. Herein lies the importance of the new cast-iron stoves and its influence on women maintaining their newfound freedom. As stated before, the cast-iron stove’s efficiency meant that people were not tied to the kitchen all day. Instead, the New Woman who chose to work, or wanted an expanded role in society, could return home to make their dinner. Cast-iron stoves sold at cheaper rates, making it easier to buy for people on a budget, and quickly became popular in the average home. [4]

With the advantage of increased flexibility, the New Woman took the opportunities to enter public society and fight for their rights, whether that be in the suffrage movement or challenging defined gender roles. They did not want to be confined or defined by domesticity. Who knew simple design changes to a regular household kitchen appliance could give the New Woman the freedom to sustain their ideas.

By: Alexa Wichowsky


[1] Pauline K. Eversmann, The Winterthur Guide to Recognizing Styles. (Delaware: The Henry Francis Du Pont Winterthur Museum, Inc., 2001), 90.

[2] Eclipse Stove Co. Eclipse Stoves, Catalog Number 26: Illustrating Cast and Steel Ranges, Cast Cook, Heating Stoves for Coal and Wood and School Heating Apparatus., 5.

[3] Susan M. Cruea, Changing Ideals of Womanhood During the Nineteenth-Century Women Movement. (Ohio: General Studies Writing Faculty Publications, 2005), 199.

[4] Schwartz Cowan, More Work for the Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave. (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1983.), 61.

Hilary Clinton, Courtesy of: South Florida Times

Hilary Clinton, Courtesy of: South Florida Times

In a year, the White House may open its doors to the first female president. In the early nineteenth century this idea would have been unthinkable. Women had a clear purpose: it was to be at home, in the domestic sphere. But is this really true? Shortly after the American Revolution the idea of Republican Motherhood was born. This was the notion that women needed to be educated in order to raise virtuous, civically moral, and patriotic sons who would go on to serve the republic. While at the same time teaching republican ideology, the belief in a free and democratic society, to their daughters to ensure they would pass it along to their sons. This meant women were leaving the home and seeking education, thus redefining the domestic sphere.

One ring eagle butter mold with patriotic shield, late eighteen or early nineteen-century. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York.

One ring eagle butter mold with patriotic shield, late eighteen or early nineteen-century. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York.

Republican ideology was taught in the home and came in many forms. One way we see this idea manifest is through butter molds. This butter mold, constructed in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, features an eagle and patriotic shield, similar to the great shield. Typically in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries butter molds were crudely constructed by something similar to a pocketknife through what was called chip-carving. There were patterns for such carvings, and little originality was seen between items. The patterns could be used for things such as dower chests, ceramics, and so on. The designs usually contained eagles, doves, tulips and hearts, and geometric designs. [1] While fairly bland in idea and design, patriotic butter molds served a larger purpose. They were a way for families to show others that they were politically responsible, and remind their sons of their civic duty.

Mother and children making butter, Courtesy of: Explore PA History

Mother and children making butter, Courtesy of: Explore PA History

Butter molds are an interesting decorative piece; however, they shed little light on the role of women in the public sphere. It is actually the history of butter making that shows the emergence of women outside the home. Generally, the male role in butter making was simply to care for and manage the cows. It was the women who milked, sorted cream, packaged the butter, and in many cases traveled to markets to trade the butter they made. In fact, butter was a way in which rural farmers took part in the rise of capitalism in America. They now had a product that could be sold all year long. And women were a vital component of the rise of what would become the butter industry. [2]

Carly Fiorina, Courtesy of: The New York Times

Carly Fiorina, Courtesy of: The New York Times

Republican mothers from the early nineteenth century are clearly different then the republican mothers we know today. However, it was these women who were the first to introduce political values and teachings in the home, thus justifying political sensibility for women and challenging the idea of domesticity. Without this movement a female presidential candidate may not be possible today. So while butter molds may seem like an insignificant part of our history, they are actually one of the bricks on the path to equality. Women are an asset to our children, families, and our country, whether they are making butter or running for president.

-Melissa Olsen

  1. The Complete Encyclopedia of Antiques (London: Hawthorn Books, 1959), 615.
  2. Joan M. Jensen, Loosening the Bonds: Mid-Atlantic Farm Women, 1750-1850 (Yale: Yale University, 1986), 93.
  3. Sita Ranchod-Nilsson and Mary Ann Tetreault , Women, States, and Nationalism: At home in the nation? (London: Routledge, 2000), last modified 2015,
  4. mothers&ots=BbI7d8OBJj&sig=BPcAugjB_JuyeM3wCpN1VCk-nBE#v=onepage&q=republican%20mothers&f=false
  5. Rosemarie Zagarri , Morals, Manners, and the Republican Mother, American Quarterly Vol. 44, No. 2, (Johns Hopkins University Press, June, 1992), 192-215, last modified 1992,
  6. Linda Kerber The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment-An American Perspective, American Quarterly. pp. Vol. 28, No. 2, (An American Enlightenment, 1976), 187–205.
  7. Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic (North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1980) 5-35.
  8. One ring eagle butter print, late eighteen or early nineteen-century, Wood, Diameter 3.25 Inches. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Parke Bernet Auction, N0184.1973. Photographed by Melissa Olsen