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These Fiery Frenchified Dames

Women and Political Culture in Early National Philadelphia

By Susan Branson

Publication Year: 2001

On July 4, 1796, a group of women gathered in York, Pennsylvania, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of American independence. They drank tea and toasted the Revolution, the Constitution, and, finally, the rights of women. This event would have been unheard of thirty years before, but a popular political culture developed after the war in which women were actively involved, despite the fact that they could not vote or hold political office. This newfound atmosphere not only provided women with opportunities to celebrate national occasions outside the home but also enabled them to conceive of possessing specific rights in the young republic and to demand those rights in very public ways.

Susan Branson examines the avenues through which women's presence became central to the competition for control of the nation's political life and, despite attempts to quell the emerging power of women—typified by William Cobbett's derogatory label of politically active women as "these fiery Frenchified dames"—demonstrates that the social, political, and intellectual ideas regarding women in the post-Revolutionary era contributed to a more significant change in women's public lives than most historians have recognized.

As an early capital of the United States, the leading publishing center, and the largest and most cosmopolitan city in America during the eighteenth century, Philadelphia exerted a considerable influence on national politics, society, and culture. It was in Philadelphia that the Federalists and Democratic Republicans first struggled for America's political future, with women's involvement critical to the outcome of their heated partisan debates. Middle and upper-class women of Philadelphia were able to achieve a greater share in the culture and politics of the new nation through several key developments, including theaters and salons that were revitalized following the war, allowing women to intermingle and participate in political discussions, and the wider availability of national and international writings, particularly those that described women's involvement in the French Revolution—perhaps the most important and controversial historical event in the early development of American women's political consciousness.

Given these circumstances, Branson argues, American women were able to create new more active social and political roles for themselves that brought them out of the home and into the public sphere. Although excluded from the formal political arenas of voting and lawmaking, American women in the Age of Revolution nevertheless thought and acted politically and were able to make their presence and opinions known to the benefit of a young nation.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Early American Studies


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pp. 1-20

IN NOVEMBER 1793 a report direct from Paris described for Philadelphia readers a "Grand Festival dedicated to Reason and Truth held at Notre Dame in Paris. This public ceremony included a group of young women dressed in white, who surrounded an Altar of Reason upon which a figure of Liberty stood.1 The following August, Philadelphians echoed their French peers by celebrating...

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Chapter One. Women and the Development of American Print Culture

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pp. 21-54

BEFORE WOMEN stepped into the streets to partake in political celebrations, to attend plays, or to converse in salons, they were exposed to a growing body of written material about their status in the early republic. By the late eighteenth century American women had developed a new and more engaged relationship to print-a medium that both reflected current ideas about women's roles and promoted new ones. As the world of publishers and readership expanded with technological and educational developments...

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Chapter Two. American Women and the French Revolution

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pp. 55-100

ARMED WITH the sentiments expressed in magazines and other forms of print culture, women were prepared to assume an expanded role in public events of the early republic. The popular American political culture that developed in response to the French Revolution provided them with ample opportunities to do so. Indeed, as early as 1789, as Americans were inundated with information...

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Chapter Three. Women as Authors, Audiences, and Subjects in the American Theater

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pp. 101-124

AS WOMEN gained a greater share in the social and political life of the nation, their presence was increasingly integral to the cultural sphere. Like the public streets, Philadelphia's playhouses were strongly contested, politicized spaces where women contributed to national political culture. The Democratic Republicans and the Federalists used performances to both demonstrate and encourage partisanship...

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Chapter Four.The Creation of the American Political Salon

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pp. 125-142

THE AMERICAN response to the French Revolution afforded women the opportunity to participate intermittently in public political activities. The theater offered them a public presence and a profession. At the same time, the creation of a federal government in 1788 fostered yet another public role for American women...

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pp. 143-150

ON JULY FOURTH , 1800, a group of New Jersey women publicly assembled to celebrate the day Democratic Republican newspapers reported that the women drank toasts to "the female Republicans of France," and to "the rights of women-may they never be curtailed."1Despite the Federalists' dominance of the public stage in the late 1790s, some Democratic Republicans continued to claim July Fourth as a day to celebrate their political...


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pp. 151-190


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pp. 191-208


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pp. 209-216

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p. 217-217

This book has been through many incarnations over the years. I must begin by thanlung those people who helped and encouraged me during my graduate study at Northern Illinois University, especially Allan Kulikoff and Elizabeth Schulman. As a dissertation fellow at the Philadelphia (now McNeil) Center...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812201413
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812217773

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2001

Series Title: Early American Studies