Meaning and origin of “A woman’s place is in the home”

MeaningLiteral meaning.


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.

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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: Adagies and Proverbs, 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.

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.”

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