Introducing the character of Mrs. Bird, Stowe wrote what is at least a partial definition of that which her culture considered the ideal woman, "Her husband and children were her entire world, and in these she ruled more by entreaty and persuasion than by command or argument."(p. 143) This one sentence tells us a great deal about Mrs. Bird's "world" - first, that it falls entirely within the confines of her own home, and second, that there she "rules," and in a very particular way. This system of "entreaty and persuasion" by which the woman controlled her sphere was known as Woman's Influence. Nowhere was a woman's influence more powerful than on the malleable minds and hearts of her children. With the omnipresent force of her influence, woman as mother did not need the vote or indeed any other means of determination; with her influence, she ruled the world.
As the Industrial Revolution unfolded and the U.S. economy moved from an agricultural to a manufacturing base, the site for production of goods shifted from the home to the factory. This change brought about what Horace Bushnell in his 1851 address "The Age of Homespun," labeled the "transition from mother and daughter power to water and steam power;"1 that is, the woman lost her role as a participant in the process of domestic manufacture.
The end of the woman as spinner, weaver, and directrice of the "house [which] was a factory on the farm"2 called for the creation of a new role for woman. She realized that her former economic importance was no longer at her disposal, yet she and society at large were unwilling to assign her a position of complete powerlessness - enter the theory of "influence."
"Woman's Influence" was first and foremost restricted to the home. It involved not only a verbal circumspection akin to Rachel Halliday's "hadn't thee better...?" but a moral pedestal on which to stand and simply be. The light cast by the piety and purity of the woman would be sufficient to sway the hearts of the irreligious to God, correct erring husbands, bring back to the fold the prodigal son (perhaps prevent his departure,) and generally bring Christian justice and charity to all corners of the earth.
With the capacity to influence she possessed as a female, the mother was equipped to form the moral character of her child. Her task mingled religious and patriotic duty, and was above all others in the respect it deserved and the responsibility it carried.
If not a tangible power, the mother's was a great influence and with great influence comes great responsibility. With the birth of her child a woman became the chief guardian of an eternal soul, responsible for molding its thoughts and deeds and making it fit for this world and the next.