The identification of femininity with morality and a belief in the innate moral superiority of women were fundamental to the cult of female domesticity in the nineteenth-century United States. Ironically, this ideology of female benevolence empowered women in the realm of social activism, enabling them to escape the confines of their traditional domestic spheres and to enter prisons, hospitals, battlefields, and slums. By following this path, some women came to wield considerable authority in the distribution of resources and services in their communities.

The sentimentalized concept of female benevolence bore little resemblance to women's actual work, which was decidedly unsentimental and businesslike, in that it involved chartering societies, raising money, and paying salaries. Moreover, in the face of legal limitations on their right to control money and property, women had to find ingenious legal ways to run and finance organized philanthropy. In contrast to the day-to-day reality of this work, the idealized image of female benevolence lent a sentimental and gracious aura of altruism to the very real authority and privilege that some women commanded—which explains why some women activists clung tenaciously to this ideology. But clinging to this ideology also prevented these women from even attempting to gain true political power because it implied a moral purity that precluded participation in the messy world of partisan politics.


It can be inferred from the passage that the author believes which of the following about women's relationship to politics in the nineteenth-century United States?


Social activism was the best path to political power for women

Had women wished to seek true political power they would have had to abandon the ideology of female benevolence.

Women's desire for true political power was the primary cause of their eventual abandonment of the ideology of female benevolence.

Only women in positions of authority in their communities exercised political influence indirectly through men.

Most men believed that they were protecting women by excluding them from politics

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Prep2008E2-RC