This article explores the relationship between various forms of women's political participation in the early republic and Mary Kelley's notion of civil society. Although Kelley is careful to exclude women's involvement in party politics and electoral affairs from her definition, many women, building on precedents established during the American Revolution, continued to participate informally in politics. Initially, the emergence of the first parties, the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans created new opportunities for women's political involvement. By the 1830s, however, a backlash had erupted, making the political realm increasingly inhospitable to women. The expansion of suffrage for white men produced a narrowing of opportunities for women. Nonvoters were marginalized as political leaders increasingly focused on those who could most help them achieve success at the polls: white male electors. Around the same time, however, women began begin to participate in a wide range of social reform activities that were political in nature, if not intent. The article explores why women of the 1830s and 1840s, in contrast to women of the revolutionary generation, refused to acknowledge their connection with party politics and male electoral affairs. It also raises questions about supposed prohibitions on women speaking in public to "mixed" audiences made up men and women and suggests that women's growing literacy and access to print culture prepared some women to agitate for political rights long before the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 61-73
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.