Midwest Social Sciences Journal


This article examines the roles of family members in the mid-19th century in America, using the Willard family as a case study. Ultimately, this thick description of the Willard family demonstrates that power within the family structure was neither intrinsic nor static; moreover, one person did not control the family and its decisions at all times. Instead, each family member, depending upon circumstances, situations, and his or her own nature, negotiated and laid claim to power through various sources of authority. Josiah Willard’s authority stemmed from his role as father and husband; society crowned him king of the household, and he had the physical size to maintain it. His wife, Mary Hill Willard, often won power struggles through love and through demonstration of her moral superiority. The children, Oliver, Frances, and Mary, exhibited their power through a variety of acts—negotiation, playing to their positions as inferiors within the family, and simple rebellion. In these ways, the Willard family provides us with a template for understanding many of the middle-class families of the mid-19th century as well as the power dynamic between parents and their children.