Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America

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Kerber, Linda K. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980.
Ibidem KW: US; 18c; Revolution; Women

Ibidem Annotation:

(see also Nancy Hewitt, Nancy Cott, Ann Boydstrom, Zagarri)(Jan Lewis- she says idea of Republican Wife inherited from Scottish Enlightenment - normal for women’s involvement as Republican Wives [first Lewis added Scottish Enlightenment and then Zagarri])

Biography and Books: Linda K. Kerber is May Brodbeck Professor in Liberal Arts & Sciences. She is Lecturer in the College of Law, where she teaches courses in Gender and Legal History. She received her PhD in history from Columbia University in 1968. In 2006 she served as President of the American Historical Association. During the academic year 2006-07 she was Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University.

Linda K. Kerber is an elected member of the American Philosophical Society and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She served as president of the Organization of American Historians in 1996-97, and as president of the American Studies Association in 1988.

In her writing and teaching Linda Kerber has emphasized the history of citizenship, gender, and authority. In the history department she teaches courses in U.S. history with an emphasis on the history of women and gender; feminist theory, and U.S. legal history. Her teaching has been recognized by the Graduate College Special Recognition/ Outstanding Mentor Award in the Humanities and Fine Arts (2001); Regents Award for Faculty Excellence (1993) and by the Honors Program Faculty Award (1996); she conducted a forum on Teaching Constitutional History on the website History Matters.

Linda K. Kerber is the author of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (1998) for which she was awarded the Littleton-Griswold Prize for the best book in U.S. legal history and the Joan Kelley Prize for the best book in women's history (both awarded by the American Historical Association). Among her other books are Toward an Intellectual History of Women (1997), Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (1980), and Federalists in Dissent: Imagery and Ideology in Jeffersonian America (1970). She is co-editor of U.S. History As Women's History, and of the widely used anthology, Women's America: Refocusing the Past (6th edition, 2004), which has been translated into Japanese.

She has served on many editorial boards and as historical advisor to several museum exhibitions; she is currently on the board of the National Constitutional Center in Philadelphia. She is an advisory editor to the "Gender and American Culture" series of the University of North Carolina Press, on the editorial board of Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society. She recently served as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and - following her interest in strengthening academic exchange between the United States and Japan - has recently completed a five year term as a member of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission/CULCON, a federal agency.

Major Publications

* No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (Hill & Wang, New York, 1998; paperback ed., 1999)

* Toward an Intellectual History of Women: Essays by Linda K. Kerber (University of North Carolina Press, 1997; hardcover and paperback)

* U.S. History as Women's History: New Feminist Essays [in honor of Gerda Lerner] (Chapel Hill, N.C. University of North Carolina Press, ed. with Alice Kessler-Harris and Kathryn Kish Sklar, 1995)

* American Literature: An Anthology (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, ed. with Emory Elliott, A. Walton Litz, and Terence Martin, 2 vols., 1991)

* Women's America: Refocusing the Past - An Anthology (Oxford University Press, ed. with Jane De Hart, hardcover and paperback, 1982; second edition, 1987; third edition, 1991; fourth edition, 1995; fifth edition, 2000; sixth edition, 2004; seventh edition, forthcoming 2010). Japanese edition, Domes Publishers, Inc., 2000, 2002.

* Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Institute of Early American History and Culture, University of North Carolina Press) hardcover and paperback, 1980; second paperback edition, (W.W. Norton) 1986; third paperback edition, (Institute of Early American History and Culture: University of North Carolina press) 1997.

* Federalists in Dissent: Imagery and Ideology in Jeffersonian America (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press) 1970; paperback edition, 1980.
Sources and Method:

Preface: Kerber found that men and women were discussing women’s place in the political system before Wollstonecraft’s _Vindication of the Rights of Women_ arrived in America. (see Zagarri). Testimony of women endures in letters, diaries, court records, petitions to legislatures, pamphlets and books. Mary Sumner Benson has done a study reading these sources with care. “This book assumes that women’s work and women’s words did make a difference, and that our understanding of the general contours of the American past will be more accurate if we asses women’s experience as carefully as we do men’s experience.” “The Revlutionary army turns out to hae been dependent on women for nursing, cooking, and cleanliness...women bravely stayed on alone, keeping family farms and mills in operation, fending off squatters, and protecting the family property by their heavy labor, often at grave physical risk.” (Kerber:xi-xii).

Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s 1848 writing of the Declaration of Sentiments for hte New York Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls was intentionally shaped from the Declaration of Independence because of women’s absence from the Constitution. There was a blind spot in the Revolution vision and the promises were not extended to women. She made this point by writing a parallel declaration.

This book looks at the search for synthesizing women’s involvement in politics without denying women’s commitment to domesticity at the time of the Revolution (Kerber:xii)


The rural, isolated lives of men and women were shaken up by the political and technological world of the Revolution. Industrial technology reshaped domestic labor and began to erode stability of household, and the Revolutionary war and constitution experiments were new concepts. Republican ideology asked the questions about parameters of citizenship, rulers and those content to be ruled. This ideology only addressed the male sex derived from Aristotlian context - the public sector as a male arena, and women’s domain non-public, lesser institution that served the polis (women still had a political role within the home) (Kerber:7).

This idea of women not central to politics continued by Enlightenment theory and British Whig Opposition. Exceptions to women’s non-involvement: crowds of women fought the establishment of smallpox inoculation centers too close to their homes; women accompanied Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock’s troops as cooks and nurses during the French and Indian War; women merchants and traders who signed the famous “petition” of New York’s “she-merchants.” Economic boycotts, a major mode of resistance to England, made it obvious women would have to become active outside of the home. the Revolutionary war sped the integration of women into the civil polity as providers of essential services for troops, as civilian sources of food and shelter, as contributors of funds and supplies, and as spies (Kerber:8).

Double standards: Coverture still not questioned by Americans. Coverture - the absorption of a married woman’s property into her husband’s control during the life of their marriage. Women as spies, whether married or unmarried, were responsible for acts of espionage or treason and subject to full penalties of the law. The assumption still prevailed, despite being newly accepted as political actors, that a married woman made no political choices. Her political leanings were that of her husband’s. Coverture continued into early Republic and continued to shape relations of women to the state (Kerber:9). Married women’s property acts not passed until 1839. The Revolution did have an impact on divorce law. Revolutionary principles stressed the right to be free of burdensome masters and this extended to the family. Divorce became more accessible. Divorce was tanken advantage of most in Massachusetts and Connecticut and in these states women became increasingly assertive and autonomous in their private behavior.

Righteous mothers asked to raise virtuous male citizens (See Popiel on French Rev). A revolution in women’s education had begun in England and America pre-Rev. Post war America, the idea of women’s education tied to which women would serve the republic most. Debate - sensibly educated women to educate future generations of sensible republicans vs. domestic tradition condemning highly educated women as perverse threats to family stability. Much of the discussion was explicitly anti-intellectual. Middle class women persisted to write and read fiction that celebrated female weakness and emotionalism (Kerber:10) These fictions stressed women dealing with reality, religious memoirs where women overcame evil through purity, overcame force through concession. Taught not to trust their passions. The characteristics lauded in men; ambition, energy, originality, were distrusted in women.

New female ideology by Judith Sargent Murray and Susannah Rowson, novelists like Hannah Webster Foster and her daughters, playwrites like Mercy Otis Warren + anonymous women who read these female writers, wrote letters to each other, kept diaries, tested the govt’s response to their needs by petitions to legislatures and lawsuits in courts, and began to organize themselves in benevolent and charitable societies. The revolution was politicizing for women, but the new republic left little room for them as political beings. The experiences of the Revolution and the Republic were different for women from men Not only did women not fight in the war, they began experimenting with the ideals of the Revolution and searching for a political role. They found “Republican Motherhood” which integrated political values into domestic life - nurturing public-spirited male citizens guaranteed steady infusion of virtue into the Republic. This language of “Republican Motherhood” provided justification for women’s political behavior (Kerber:11). Women played a significant political role, albeit at home. However, this role remained severely limited with no collective definition and no outlet to affect real political decision. Women were still on the margins. Argues this means the Revolution was conservative, leaving women on the periphery of politics. Women’s efforts tried to accomplish what the Revolution failed to do for them. This book is an account of the origins of Republican Motherhood - the accepted model of women’s political behavior, although certainly not the most radical (Kerber:12).
Chapter 1 - “Empire of Complacency”: The Inheritance of the Enlightenment.

All of the ideological struggles of the 18c regarding liberty and law ignore gender. Philosophes refer to vast generalizations about humanity. This broad sweep indicates Enlightenment writers meant to include all people, but we should be skeptical about this assumption. Men mostly creaters of Enlightenment philosophy where women are mostly consumers of this thought. Exceptions: Catherine Macauley and Mary Wollstonecraft. The use of man was literal, not generic. (Kerber:15) John Locke came closer than most contemporaries and successors to specifying a political role for women. “He underlined the rights and powers women ought to hae in their domestic capacity. Mothers have...a right to filial respect that is not dependent on the husband’s will; mothers have their own responsibilities to their children; women ought to control their own property.” (Kerber:27) Women of the American Revolution had few theoretical analyses of their place in society. Much was said of their peripheral status to the world of politics and decision making. Mary Wollstonecraft was only 17 at beginning of Rev. “If American women were to count themselves as the daughters of Liberty, they would have to invent their own ideology.” (Kerber:32)

Chapter 2-“Women Invited to War”: Sacrifice and Survival.

Common sense of 18c political theory that women had less patriotism than men. They were thought to experience politics through husbands, fathers, sons. Men and women shared in the distrust of female capacity to take politics seriously pre-Rev. Despite the economic and physical sacrifice of individual women, a folklore persisted that discounted owmen’s political behavior, women were incapable of making reasoned and unbiased political judgments, and emphasized the hesitancy of women to sacrifice their creature comforts for higher national purposes (Kerber:35). The experiences of the Rev ought to have proved women could patriotic, but memories of women who supported the Revolution were counterbalanced by women who were loyalists. Few believed women could be a wife and mother while also being an independent political being. Abigail Adams believed women could be both. The task made more difficult by liberal hesitancy to believe that propertyless people could make reasoned political decisions, but even unmarried women with property found resistance to their political claims. “The creators and advocates of Republican Motherhood produced the terms and rhetoric in which much of hte 19 and 20c debate on the proper dimensions of female patriotism would be expressed (Kerber:36).

Revolutionary political actions by women: boycotts because women managed household economies. Men tried to convince women to boycott based on security of the home. Women justified boycotts squarely on the grounds of political commitments (Kerber:37). Purchasing and manufacture were politicized. Women homespun in spinning bees (Kerber:38). Tea boycott - sharpest challenge (Kerber:39). Women signed petitions. In 1830s women’s petitions a familiar device, but virtually unknown before 1770s. “Prewar boycotts initiated the politicization of the household economy and marked the beginning of the use of a political language that explicitly included women.” This intensified during the war (Kerber:41). women the source of the clothing and blankets the army needed. “Male suppliers of clothing - tailors, weavers, shoemakers - were exempted from military service, but no sweeteners were offered for the services provided by women, only the threat that the items they made could be seized by the commissioners.” (Kerber:42) Women policed local merchants who hoarded scarce comodities (Kerber:43). Belief in consumption behaviors as having political implications persisted long after the Rev. Continued in every international crisis of the early Republic (Kerber:44). Buying American goods became patriotic and women had to provide and protect the market for domestic goods (Kerber:45).

Women made refugees by war. Disruption of family life. Possibly this disruption created a renewed appreciation of the cult of domesticity when it returned in peacetime (Kerber:47). Women could easily travel between camps and into British occupied territories on the pretext of visiting family or friends. Many of these women could have been spies. British sympathizers and pacifist Shakers were suspected (Kerber:49). Tory wives discriminated against. robbed, plundered. It was believed wive’s political loyalties the same as their husbands’. (Kerber:50).

Most common official position American forces offered women was that of nurse (Kerber:58). women paid low wages compared to men. One of the best way women could earn money was to run a boardinghouse (Kerber:61). Housed prisoners under house arrest for money (Kerber:65). Most civilian women who worked for the American cause, sometimes freelance or without pay, did so unofficially. Difficult to retrieve them. Women had significant services to render (Kerber:66). Women gathered around one another for moral and emotional support. formed mutual support groups (Kerber:67)

Chapter 3 - “What Have I To Do With Politicks?”: The Meaning of Female Patriotism

Not clear that the efforts women made during wartime were thought of as wartime politics. Looking at women’s political consciousness. Must consider the skepticism of the entire culture. Shared participation in military forces forged a bonding experience for future political leaders. Not the same consequence for women’s war duties such as hospital service. Not bonding and their domestic identity did not change (Kerber:73). Professionalism during war had little postwar significance.

Chapter 4-“She Can Have No Will Different From His” Revolutionary Loyalties of Married Women.

Chapter 5-“Disabilities...Intended for Her Protection” The Anti-Republican Implications of Coverture

Chapter 6-“Domestic Liberty” Freedom to Divorce

Chapter 7-“Why Should Girls be Learnd or Wise?” Education and Intellect in the Early Republic

Chapter 8-“We Own that Ladies Sometimes Read” Women’s Reading in the Early Republic.

Chapter 9-The Republican Mother: Female Political Imagination in the Early Republic.

Women remembered the Revolution as a time when women chose political identities, felt pride about their loyalism or patriotism, and performed services for the govt. of their choice. The republic only offered grudging responses to their sacrifices. Women devised their own interpretation of Revolutionary meaning and invented an ideology of citizenship that merged the domestic of preindustrial women with the new public ideology of individual responsibility and civic virtue - Republican Motherhood. Women were ridiculed for ideology of political involvement and the complaints were based on the belief that educating women served no practical purpose and women had no political significance (Kerber:269).

Popular novels - women must control themselves and their options during war. Taking political positions, and resist, survive and flourish under wartime conditions (Kerber:271). appropriate education will steel girls to face adversity. This is related to the conviction that all citizens of a republic should be self-reliant (Kerber:272). Authors used satire to express a desire to play a political role. Satire as a device typically makes criticism less threatening and more palatable (Kerber:278). To openly acknowledge a role for women in the public sector invited extraordinary hostility and ridicule.

Although neither political party took a consistent position on the matter, hostility to women’s political participation seems to have been particularly acute in Federalist circles.” A Republican periodical first reprinted Wollstonecraft’s _Vindication_. Most persistent argument against female political participation was female political autonomy was linked to an unflattering masculinity. Antipolitical and anti-intellectualism directed against women very similar (Kerber:279).

According to Philanthropos’, a Marylander’s letter printed in _Virginia Gazette_ 1790 antipolitical sentiments were: women involved with domestic cares had not time politics, women were inept at politics, behind every queen lurked male advisers, and guiding the political vigor of Quaker women was a peculiar and distasteful view of the nature of the universe. Political women thought to be sexually aggressive and deficient of female charms. As long as virtuous women had private opportunity to influence men, they ought not regret their exclusion from political life (Kerber:281).

Only the Republican Mother was spared hostility. A concensus developed around the idea that a mother, committed to the service of her family and to the state might serve a political purpose. To encourage in sons civic interest and participation. Educate and guid them in morality and virtue, but not to tell male relaties for whom to vote. “A political community that accepted women as political actors would have to eliminate the Rousseauistic assumption that the world of women is separate from the empire of men. The ideology of Republican Motherhood seemed to accomplish what the Enlightenment had not by identifying the intersection of the woman’s private doman with the polis.” (Popiel offers a different interpretation of Rousseau) (Kerber:283). “Republican Mother usually insisted upon better eduation, clearer recognition of women’s economic contributions,and a strong political identification with the Republic. The idea could be pulled in both conservative and reform directions.” The idea absorbed in domestic feminism of Victorian period and “cult of true womanhood” and even into 20c feminism. Republican Motherhood a stage in the process of women’s politicization. Deference a necessary element to move forward (Kerber:284). Represents not a negation of citizenship but and approach to full participation in the civic culture. men at first deferential citizens before becoming aggressive, egalitarian democrats. “There was a direct relationship between the developing egalitarian democracy among men and the expectation of continued deferential behavior among women.” Society cannot function without her. Republican Motherhood legitimized minimum political sophistication and interest of a generalized sort (Kerber:285).

Restricting women’s politicization was a conservative choice Americans made postwar as they avoided the full implications of the own revolutionary radicalism. Another conservative element of the early Republic is the failure to give high priority to the liberalization of divorce; exception in Massachussetts and CT (Kerber:287).

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