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The marriages discussed in the following chapters range broadly over time from the early nineteenth to the early twentieth century. Changes affecting the structure and ideology of the middle-class family were accelerating rapidly over these years, so we should expect the experiences we encounter to be marked by diversity. The traditional idea and practice of the unity of work and household where the wife was an informal partner, her legal personality absorbed in that of her husband (by the common-law doctrine of couverture) was rapidly giving way to a family ideal governed by principles of separate spheres, in which, while married women’s legal status remained unaltered at first, family life was elevated in importance, and the home, overseen by dependent wives, provided a refuge for husbands, as household heads, from the separate place of work.1