Citizenship and the Origins of Women's History in the United States
Publication Year: 2013
Women's history emerged as a genre in the waning years of the eighteenth century, a period during which concepts of nationhood and a sense of belonging expanded throughout European nations and the young American republic. Early women's histories had criticized the economic practices, intellectual abilities, and political behavior of women while emphasizing the importance of female domesticity in national development. These histories had created a narrative of exclusion that legitimated the variety of citizenship considered suitable for women, which they argued should be constructed in a very different way from that of men: women's relationship to the nation should be considered in terms of their participation in civil society and the domestic realm. But the throes of the Revolution and the emergence of the first woman's rights movement challenged the dominance of that narrative and complicated the history writers' interpretation of women's history and the idea of domestic citizenship.
In Citizenship and the Origins of Women's History in the United States, Teresa Anne Murphy traces the evolution of women's history from the late eighteenth century to the time of the Civil War, demonstrating that competing ideas of women's citizenship had a central role in the ways those histories were constructed. This intellectual history examines the concept of domestic citizenship that was promoted in the popular writing of Sarah Josepha Hale and Elizabeth Ellet and follows the threads that link them to later history writers, such as Lydia Maria Child and Carolyn Dall, who challenged those narratives and laid the groundwork for advancing a more progressive woman's rights agenda. As woman's rights activists recognized, citizenship encompassed activities that ranged far beyond specific legal rights for women to their broader terms of inclusion in society, the economy, and government. Citizenship and the Origins of Women's History in the United States demonstrates that citizenship is at the heart of women's history and, consequently, that women's history is the history of nations.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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Thomas Wentworth Higginson wrote to Caroline Dall in the spring of 1854 to let her know he was bowled over by her biographical sketches in The Una, which he collectively labeled ‘‘Essays toward the History of Woman.’’ The questions that were being raised by the woman’s rights movement, questions inspiring Dall’s writing, were the most revolutionary ones of their generation, Higginson claimed...
I: Women, History, and Nation
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Chapter 1 Domestic Citizenship and National Progress
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In the spring of 1774, Robert Aitken took out large ads in both the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Pennsylvania Packet to advertise his latest product, the Essay on the Character, Manners, and Genius of Women, in Different Ages. The book had been written by Antoine-Le´onard Thomas and published in Paris in 1772, then translated (and expanded) by William Russell, who published it in...
Chapter 2 Revolutionary Responses
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Abigail Adams was exhausted by the efforts she had made to support the Revolution and her new government when she wrote to her husband, John, early in the summer of 1782. Interspersing neighborhood news with her opinions on diplomatic issues, she famously observed with some resignation that ‘‘Patriotism in the female Sex is the most disinterested of all virtues.’’1 William Russell...
Chapter 3 The Challenges of Radical Reform
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Maria Stewart was angry and defiant in 1833 as she delivered a farewell address in Boston. As a follower of David Walker’s, Stewart had spent two years publicly speaking to fellow African Americans around Boston, urging them to join actively in the fight against slavery. She criticized their interests in gambling and dancing, advocating instead a path of religious devotion and rigorous education. Her criticisms...
II: Citizenship and Women's History
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Chapter 4 Women's History and Woman's Rights
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In 1854, Elizabeth Cady Stanton addressed the New York legislature to claim the right to suffrage, arguing, ‘‘We have every qualification required by the constitution, necessary to the legal voter, but the one of sex.’’ Women, she pointed out, had ‘‘governed nations, led armies, filled the professor’s chair, taught philosophy and mathematics to the savans of our age, discovered planets, [and] piloted...
Chapter 5 Domestic Histories
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The Literary World reviewed another new entry into the field of women’s history in 1850, and the reviewer noted that ‘‘these ladies’ books about ladies are decidedly the literary fashion of the day.’’ Whether the books were about queens, the distinguished women of France, or the women of the American Revolution, the reviewer noted, ‘‘The lady writers seem of late to have taken the potentates..
Chapter 6 Caroline Dall's Usable Past: Women and Equal Citizenship
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As 1852 drew to a close, Caroline Dall grumbled in the pages of her journal, ‘‘Finished Miss Kavenaugh’s ‘Women of Christianity,’ and meditate a review of that stupid book Mrs. Hale has put out ‘Woman’s Record.’ I wish I could write it over, and consider it no small misfortune that the task fell into her hands.’’1 Dall was living in Toronto at the time, where her husband...
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Dall may have given up on writing women’s history, but others did not.Matilda Gage took up the mantle of trying to write a broader history ofwomen with an activist’s conscience. In 1868, she began publishing essaysabout the importance of female inventors in the pages of Stanton and An-thony’s Revolution. Picking up on some of the issues of economic and intel-...
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As someone who has written women’s history, I have been fascinated by the ways in which the authors who produced early women’s histories, particularly in the nineteenth century, engaged key questions of political development and wrote for a wide range of readers with very few resources to support them. This realization has helped me to be acutely aware of the privileges I have experienced...
Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013