What Was Life Like During the Romantic Period?

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The Romantic movement was an international shift in attitude, beginning in 1770 and ending in 1870. It was known as the Age of Revolutions, which included the American and French revolutions. In addition, the Romantic movement saw the early stages of the industrial revolution, which transformed society in many ways.

1 Intellectual Thought

The Romantic movement placed high importance on imagination, in contrast to the earlier era, which championed reason. Paying attention to emotions became more important under Romanticism. Individuality was highly accepted and expected. Reading was very popular during the Romantic period and the overall education of children improved. In the early 19th century, churches started educating poor children. Some women also ran “dame schools,” where children were taught reading, writing and arithmetic.

2 Households

Families were larger in the 19th century because people tried to have as many children as possible, knowing that not all of them would survive. Men were in charge of the household and the family was expected to obey the husband. All property belonged to the husband, even money made by the husband’s wife.

3 Labor

Over time, people began working in factories more often than working in their own homes, with the textile industry being the first one to move the majority of jobs into factories. Factories hired a large number of women and children. There was a prevalent belief that everyone should be self-reliant and that everyone could become successful by working hard and saving money. Skilled workers sometimes had paid holidays. To be considered a member of the middle class, a family had to have at least one servant.

4 Workhouses

Those who could not afford to survive on their own had to enter into workhouses, places where people worked for room and board. They were designed to be as unpleasant as possible to deter the poor from coming to them. Husbands and wives were often separated and children were typically kept away from their parents. The work was very strenuous. Over time, workhouses became more humane.

5 Sanitation

Streets were unsanitary, with garbage and waste often left everywhere. Families often owned cesspits. Toilets were invented and gradually became more common, though families had to share toilets for awhile. Life expectancy was low primarily because of outbreaks of disease caused by poor sanitation. Given the outbreak of diseases, many towns dug sewers, which helped reduce the spread of disease. Louis Pasteur performed a series of experiments that proved that microscopic organisms caused disease, publishing them in 1861. He also discovered ways to sterilize liquids by heating it. Surgery was improved significantly in the late romantic era, after the discovery of anesthetics.

6 Home Life

The range and gas fires became more available, providing heat. Bread, butter, potatoes and bacon were the dominant staples for those in poverty. Canned food became available in the early romantic era and jarred food was available towards the end. Some of the poorest lived in cellars, where they slept on straw, since they could not afford beds. Sometimes, several families lived in one room. The rich were mostly the only ones who had bathrooms, though towards the end of the Romantic era, more middle class and poor families had them. While poverty seemed bad in the Romantic period by modern standards, life was actually easier than it was in the earlier eras.

Chuck Robert specializes in nutrition, marketing, nonprofit organizations and travel. He has been writing since 2007, serving as a ghostwriter and contributing to online publications. Robert holds a Master of Arts with a dual specialization in literature and composition from Purdue University.