Title: Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800
Author: Mary Beth Norton
Categories: Social History, Women, Gender, Domesticity
Place: United States
Time Period: 1750-1800
Mary Beth Norton comprehensively examines the behavior and experience of women in America between 1750 and 1800. She explicitly argues against the idea of a "golden age" of women's status in colonial America, instead describing a world of rigid patriarchy in which women's worth was denigrated by themselves and others. In this world, women largely led lives of drudgery, controlled by husbands and fathers and denigrated in popular literature. Women enjoyed only limited freedoms, primarily in religious participation and in their female relationships with daughters, mothers, and female friends.
Norton describes how the Revolution helped change women's status. During the war, women took on more active political roles by participating in non-importation and boycott movements, signing petitions, and in the famous case of Philadelphia women in 1780, raising money for the Continental Army. At home women were forced to take on more and more responsibilities with men away at war. The net result was a greater degree of public political participation and an increased sense of worth (both of themselves and of society's views of their contributions). After the war saw a limited flourishing of women's conditions: more control over choosing spouses, more mutual cooperation to prevent pregnancies, and most importantly, greater access to education. The end result was, in Mary Norton's characterization, cautiously optimistic. Women made advancements in several areas, although she is careful to note that their role was still tightly circumscribed to the household - it was just that their worth within this area had increased. This stands in contrast to Linda Kerber's interpretation of the era (who published Women of the Republic in the same year, 1980) - which Norton describes as a "half-empty" characterization of the Revolution's effects, compared to her own "half-full" interpretation.
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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