The Work of the Heart: Emotion in the 1805–35 Diary of Sarah Connell Ayer

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2002


Through analyzing the 1805–35 diary of Sarah Connell Ayer and employing sociological concepts of feeling rules, this article examines how women shaped and reshaped their emotions to fit their evolving roles as daughter, wife and mother. It finds that sentimental literature taught young women to cultivate tenderness, control anger and admire one’s goodness. Emotion work increased as husbands explicitly corrected women’s emotional expression. Together, motherhood and Calvinism created the most demanding feeling rules: this Massachusetts diarist felt compelled to control every facet of her behavior lest she imperil her children’s salvation. Although female friendship allowed young women free expression, in adulthood religious and maternal demands constricted that freedom. This essay concludes that “emotion work” was highly gendered, set different tasks as women’s class and relationships changed, mirrored characteristics of women’s physical labor but was distinctive in the degree to which it threatened the boundaries of self.