Breaking Conventions: Five Couples in Search of Marriage-Career Balance at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century - cover image


Patricia Auspos

Published On





  • English

Print Length

470 pages (xvi+456)


Paperback156 x 33 x 234 mm(6.14" x 1.3" x 9.21")
Hardback156 x 37 x 234 mm(6.14" x 1.46" x 9.21")


Paperback890g (31.39oz)
Hardback1070g (37.74oz)



OCLC Number





  • JBSF1
  • JHBK
  • NHB
  • NHK
  • NHD


  • JFSJ1
  • LNMB
  • VFVG
  • JHBK
  • HB
  • HBLL
  • 1KB
  • 1DBK


  • SOC028000
  • SOC026010
  • HIS037060
  • HIS029000
  • HIS015060


  • HQ1075


  • relationships
  • gender
  • marriage
  • profession
  • letters
  • journals
  • autobiography
  • social dynamics
  • masculinity
  • women

Breaking Conventions

Five Couples in Search of Marriage-Career Balance at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century

  • Patricia Auspos (author)
This rich history illuminates the lives and partnerships of five married couples – two British, three American – whose unions defied the conventions of their time and anticipated social changes that were to come in the ensuing century. In all five marriages, both husband and wife enjoyed thriving professional lives: a shocking circumstance at a time when wealthy white married women were not supposed to have careers, and career women were not supposed to marry.

Patricia Auspos examines what we can learn from the relationships of the Palmers, the Youngs, the Parsons, the Webbs, and the Mitchells, exploring the implications of their experiences for our understanding of the history of gender equality and of professional work. In expert and lucid fashion, Auspos draws out the interconnections between the institutions of marriage and professional life at a time when both were undergoing critical changes, by looking specifically at how a pioneering generation tried to combine the two.

Based on extensive archival research and drawing on mostly unpublished letters, journals, pocket diaries, poetry, and autobiographical writings, Breaking Conventions tells the intimate stories of five path-breaking marriages and the social dynamics they confronted and revealed. This book will appeal to scholars, students, and anyone interested in women’s studies, gender studies, masculinity studies, histories of women in the professions, and the history of marriage.


This is a very accessible and readable book that will surely be of interest to a wider audience. It engaged me not only as a historian interested in the evidence and how we might read it, but as a woman who has faced (continues to face!) very many of these issues. Indeed, I found the discussion of many of the key themes to be utterly compelling -- e.g. the idea of ‘oneness’ in a relationship and who defines it; the difficulty of pioneering new arrangements within the home; the power of ideas and ideals about masculinity and femininity, love and marriage; romantic love and ‘self-surrender’; the fear of transgressing acceptable femininities; the desire for a masculine man; the drive for immersive work of one’s own outside of family life. Despite these women being from the elite, with access to family money and domestic help, many aspects of their struggles (and joys) resonate widely.

Dr Alison Twells

Sheffield Hallam University


Patricia Auspos


A graduate of Barnard College, Patricia Auspos earned a Ph.D. in Modern British History from Columbia University and taught at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. She researched and wrote about social policy issues and programs as a staff member at MDRC and the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change, and as an independent consultant. Breaking Conventions is her first book. She lives in Jackson Heights, New York City.