Title: Women of the Republic: Intellect & Ideology in Revolutionary America
Author: Linda Kerber
Categories: Gender, Women, Intellectual History, Early Republic, Republicanism
Place: United States
Time Period: ~1760s-1820s
Linda Kerber describes the rise of an intellectual ideal of the "Republican Mother" during and after the Revolutionary War. "Republican Motherhood" was an image that women themselves crafted to merge the female domestic sphere with political participation through the idea that women needed to provide moral guidance for their husbands and raising virtuous sons to be American citizens. The growth of this ideal brought limited improvements for women's political participation. The war itself brought some opportunities for women - some signed individual petitions requesting release of their husbands or travel pardons, and some groups of women organizing war efforts (ex. 1780 group of Philadelphia women) that cited strong women of antiquity and the Bible. Others were given ever greater responsibility with men away fighting. After the war, women seized on the "Republican Motherhood" ideal to advance female education (which Kerber sees as one of its most important and positive legacies).
On the flip side, Kerber argues that the Revolution was fundamentally conservative in the context of women. This coalesced for Kerber in the legal realm of coverture. During the war, coverture disputes revolved around loyalist wives - oftentimes judges would rule that it was better for a woman to remain loyal to her husband than to her country (America). After the war, Kerber notes that women's control of their own property actually decreased. This had ideological ramifications, principally that in a republic a citizen could not be virtuous unless they were independent property-holders. Because women could not legally hold property while married, this intellectually and legally excluded them from citizenship.
Key Themes and Concepts
Conservatism of the Revolution
Coverture - difference between a feme sole and a feme covert
Education gains - increasingly framed as a necessity for women to raise virtuous sons and husbands
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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