Auspos, Patricia;

Published On


Page Range

pp. 1–26


  • English

Print Length

26 pages


Love, Power, and Profession in Early Dual Career Marriages

  • Patricia Auspos (author)
Pursuing careers of their own made it difficult for these privileged wives to be the self-effacing, self-sacrificing domestic angels, helpmate wives, and companionate spouses that middle and upper-class white women of their day were expected to be. Instead, they upended gender stereotypes and romantic ideals, and found new ways to build emotional connection with their husbands. Chipping away at the foundations of male privilege and patriarchal power that defined most marriages of their time, they also challenged the emerging model of a professional career that reflected men’s lives and experiences rather than women’s.
Because they wanted to work, these women looked for different qualities in a husband and a marriage than the typical middle-class woman of their era did.  The search for a supportive husband led the women to think differently about masculinity and romantic love. Several “married down” by choosing men who were outside their social and economic class. This lowered the woman’s status in the eyes of her family and the world, but it strengthened her position in the marriage.
Stricter standards of childrearing and professionalism increased the difficulties women of this era encountered in their efforts to combine marriage, motherhood, and career, but their husbands were potentially the greatest threat to their success. Some of the men were ostensibly encouraging but nevertheless put barriers in the women’s way and sometimes belittled their accomplishments. Others gave their wives long-term, ungrudging, unambiguous support. Supportive husbands took on many of the roles helpmate wives typically provided for husbands, shifting both the emotional dynamic and power center of traditional marriage. The husbands did more childcare and household management than most men of their era, but there was no expectation that there should be an equitable division of labor in the home. Like today’s “supermoms,” these wives worked two shifts – the household and the workplace – and carried out seemingly domestic tasks in order to show that they were “womanly” women.
For the most part the wives embraced their multi-tasking lives with enthusiasm, and reveled in the opportunity to combine marriage and career rather than being relegated to one sphere or the other. Only late in their marriages did they acknowledge how resentful they sometimes felt about the extra burdens they carried compared with their husbands.
Each of the five marriages is discussed in a separate chapter, in a progression that moves from the marriages that had the most trouble accommodating the wife’s career to those that were the most successful in doing so. Together, the five marriages offer variations on a common theme and illustrate an emblematic spectrum of challenges and responses. They illuminate the difficult choices dual couples still wrestle with today.
Two of the couples – the Palmers and the Youngs – were reluctant rebels who struggled to uphold traditional values and marital stereotypes while accommodating the wife’s career. The deeply divided Parsons became a contentious couple whose work in unrelated fields pushed them apart instead of drawing them together. Elsie’s affair with the novelist Robert Herrick became equally contentious over the priority she gave her work. Two other couples – the Webbs and the Mitchells – were proud pioneers who expected men and women to adopt new roles in the workplace as well as in the home.


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.