in the 1800s in America had few options as to choice of lifestyle
or career. Society expected them to marry, be wives and mothers
and to be taken care of by their husbands. Those who did not marry
lived at home with their parents or in the households of family
members usually acting as nursemaids to children in the household
or as housekeepers.
Women did not have the right to vote. If they worked their salaries
were given to their husbands. Money received through inheritance
also became his property. The husband had the right to make all
decisions regarding his children.
Education was not deemed necessary for a woman and few continued
on past learning how to read and do simple math. Few careers were
available with the exception of teaching young children, being a
seamstress, running a small shop, domestic work and trying to survive
brutal work in factories. Their wages never equaled that of men.
This was the world that Rhoda Mead came into in 1833. She was one
of eight children of Merlin and Polly Mead. The family moved to
Franklinville and then to the hamlet of Cadiz. Both parents had
been school teachers in New York City. Although their children started
school in Cadiz, they were given the opportunity to travel and attend
higher educational institutions. Their son Aaron attended school
in Waterbury, Connecticut where he lived with relatives. Rhoda went
to New Haven, Connecticut where she was described as a model student.
After her school years, she taught for several years. But she was
determined to go to Europe and be on her own. She fell in love with
Paris and Switzerland and finally became a teacher of English in
a boarding school in Wurttenberg, Germany to 50 girls.
She was an avid letter writer and as a result gives us a picture
of her life. The school was run by a severe professor who considered
all Americans to be barbarians and robbers, according to Rhoda.
She was paid $1 a week and expected to chaperone, teach and do chores.
He would receive all their mail and sometimes delay delivering it
to them for weeks. Although she loved her students she decided one
winter there was enough.
In one letter home she writes: "Elections are over, and I suppose
dear old Father Abraham is still in the White House and our country
once more on the road to peace." "I am quite happy, though
I do not think there has been a single night that I have not dreamed
Her passport was signed by Secretary Seward on September 4th, 1863,
and she is described as 5'1" tall, black eyes, small nose,
medium mouth, oval face but sharp chin, black hair and dark complexion.
In 1865 she writes home, worried that she has not heard from her
mother saying, "it seems to me that you would not let 6 months
pass without saying one word to your baby daughter who though she
can run alone and delights in her freedom from Mother's apron strings,
yet looks back very often for the approving smile and encouraging