Gender Roles of Husband and Wife in the Home - Based on 1880s Gentleman’s Etiquette Manual


The husband, in fact, should act toward his wife as becomes a perfect gentleman, regarding her as the “best lady in the land,” to whom, above all other earthly beings, he owes paramount allegiance. 

HOME is the woman’s kingdom, and there she reigns supreme. To embellish that home, to make happy the lives of her husband and the dear ones committed to her trust, is the honored task which it is the wife’s province to perform. All praise be to her who so rules and governs in that kingdom, that those reared beneath her roof “shall rise up and call her blessed.”


After marriage one of the first requirements for happiness is a home. This can seldom be found in a boarding house or at a hotel, and not always beneath the parental roof of either husband or wife. It will oftenest be found in a house or even a cottage apart from the immediate association of relatives or friends, acquaintances or strangers, and here husband and wife may begin in reality, that new life of which they have had fond dreams; and upon their own actions must depend their future welfare.


Husband and wife should remember, when starting out upon their newly wedded life, that they are to be life companions, that the affection they have possessed and expressed as lovers must ripen into a life-long devotion to one another’s welfare and happiness, that the closest friendship must be begotten from their early love, and that each must live and work for the other. They must seek to be congenial companions to each other, so that every hour they pass together will be mutually enjoyable. They should aim to have the same tastes so that what one enjoys will be alike enjoyable to the other, and what is distasteful to one shall be no less so to the other. Each should yield in matters where it is right to yield, and be firm only where duty is concerned. With a firm trust in one another they should ever abide, that each may say to the world, “I possess one on whose character and heart I can lean as upon a rock.”


Let neither ever deceive the other, or do anything to shake the other’s confidence, for once deceived, the heart can never wholly trust again. Fault-finding should only be done by gentle and mild criticism, and then with loving words and pleasant looks. Make allowances for one another’s weaknesses, and at the same time endeavor to mutually repress them. For the sake of mutual improvement the husband and wife should receive and give corrections to one another in a spirit of kindness, and in doing so they will prepare themselves for the work God gives the parents of training lives for usefulness here and hereafter. Their motto should be “faithful unto death in all things,” and they must exercise forbearance with each other’s peculiarities.

Let both preserve a strict guard over their tongues, that neither may utter anything rude, contemptuous or severe, and guard their tempers, that neither may ever grow passionate or become sullen or morose in one another’s presence. They should not expect too much from each other; if either offends, it is the part of the other to forgive, remembering that no one is free from faults, and that we are all constantly erring.

If, perchance, after they have entered upon the stern realities of life, they find, that they have made a mistake, that they are not well mated, then they must accept the inevitable and endure to the end, “for better or for worse;” for only in this way can they find consolation for having found out, when too late, that they were unfitted for a life-long companionship. A journalist has said: “No lessons learned by experience, however sharply taught and sadly earned, can enlighten the numbed senses which love has sent to sleep by its magic fascination; and things as plain as the sun in heaven to others are dark as night, unfathomable as the sea, to those who let themselves love before they prove.”


The wife should remember that upon her, to the greatest extent, devolves the duty of making home happy. She should do nothing to make her husband feel uncomfortable, either mentally or physically, but on the other hand she should strive to the utmost of her ability to do whatever is best calculated to please him, continually showing him that her love, plighted upon the altar, remains steadfast, and that no vicissitudes of fortune can change or diminish it.

She should never indulge in fits of temper, hysterics, or other habits of ill-breeding, which, though easy to conquer at first, grow and strengthen with indulgence, if she would retain her husband as her lover and her dearest and nearest friend. She should be equally as neat and tidy respecting her dress and personal appearance at home as when she appears in society, and her manners towards her husband should be as kind and pleasing when alone with him as when in company. She should bear in mind that to retain the good opinion of her husband is worth far more than to gain the good opinion of hundreds of the devotees of society, and that as she possesses the love and confidence of her husband, so will she receive the respect and esteem of all his friends.

She should be careful not to confide to another any small misunderstandings or petty quarrels between herself and husband, should any occur. This is the surest method of widening any breach of harmony that may occur between husband and wife, for the more such misunderstandings are talked about, and the more advice she receives from her confidants, there is less probability that harmonious relations will be speedily resumed.


A wife should act openly and honorably in regard to money matters, keeping an exact account of her expenditures, and carefully guarding against any extravagances; and while her husband is industriously at work, she should seek to encourage him, by her own frugality, to be economical, thrifty, enterprising and prosperous in his business, that he may be better enabled, as years go by and family cares press more heavily on each, to afford all the comforts and perhaps some of the luxuries of a happy home. No condition is hopeless when the wife possesses firmness, decision and economy, and no outward prosperity can counteract indolence, folly and extravagance at home. She should consult the disposition and tastes of her husband, and endeavor to lead him to high and noble thoughts, lofty aims, and temporal comfort; be ever ready to welcome him home, and in his companionship draw his thoughts from business and lead him to the enjoyment of home comforts and happiness. The influence of a good wife over her husband may be very great, if she exerts it in the right direction. She should, above all things, study to learn the disposition of her husband, and if, perchance, she finds herself united to a man of quick and violent temper, the utmost discretion, as well as perfect equanimity on her own part is required, for she should have such perfect control over herself as to calm his perturbed spirits.


It must not be supposed that it devolves upon the wife alone to make married life and home happy. She must be seconded in her noble efforts by him who took her from her own parental fireside and kind friends, to be his companion through life’s pilgrimage. He has placed her in a new home, provided with such comforts as his means permit, and the whole current of both their lives have been changed. His constant duty to his wife is to be ever kind and attentive, to love her as he loves himself, even sacrificing his own personal comfort for her happiness. From his affection for her, there should grow out a friendship and fellowship, such as is possessed for no other person. His evenings and spare moments should be devoted to her, and these should be used for their intellectual, moral and social advancement.

The cares and anxieties of business should not exclude the attentions due to wife and family, while he should carefully keep her informed of the condition of his business affairs. Many a wife is capable of giving her husband important advice about various details of his business, and if she knows the condition of his pecuniary affairs, she will be able to govern her expenditures accordingly.

It is the husband’s duty to join with his wife in all her endeavors to instruct her children, to defer all matters pertaining to their discipline to her, aiding her in this respect as she requires it. In household matters the wife rules predominant, and he should never interfere with her authority and government in this sphere. It is his duty and should be his pleasure to accompany her to church, to social gatherings, to lectures and such places of entertainment as they both mutually enjoy and appreciate. In fact he ought not to attend a social gathering unless accompanied by his wife, nor go to an evening entertainment without her. If it is not a fit place for his wife to attend, neither is it fit for him.

While he should give his wife his perfect confidence in her faithfulness, trusting implicitly to her honor at all times and in all places, he should, on his part, remain faithful and constant to her, and give her no cause of complaint. He should pass by unnoticed any disagreeable peculiarities and mistakes, taking care at the proper time, and without giving offense, to remind her of them, with the idea of having her correct them. He should never seek to break her of any disagreeable habits or peculiarities she may possess, by ridiculing them. He should encourage her in all her schemes for promoting the welfare of her household, or in laudable endeavors to promote the happiness of others, by engaging in such works of benevolence and charity as the duties of her home will allow her to perform.

The husband, in fact, should act toward his wife as becomes a perfect gentleman, regarding her as the “best lady in the land,” to whom, above all other earthly beings, he owes paramount allegiance. If he so endeavors to act, his good sense and judgment will dictate to him the many little courtesies which are due her, and which every good wife cannot fail to appreciate. The observance of the rules of politeness are nowhere more desirable than in the domestic circle, between husband and wife, parents and children.

The above is an excerpt from “Our Deportment,” a code of manners for refined society by John H. Young A.M., published in 1881. We offer it in hopes of promoting gentlemanly conduct among men—young and older—in today’s world.