In this essay, I argue that early American author Susanna Rowson, in her novels Charlotte Temple (1794) and Mentoria (1794) and her work as a teacher, imagines how women can operate within and beyond the contradictory paradigm of republican motherhood, a model for female civic engagement that extolled women’s cultural influence while relegating them to the domestic sphere. She disassembles republican motherhood into its conservative and progressive parts, represented by two distinct and interdependent characters: the apolitical, domestic, and biological mother, embodied by women like Lucy Temple; and the political, public, textual mentor, represented by the narrator in Charlotte Temple, the title character in Mentoria, and Rowson herself. The strength of the maternal bond, according to Rowson, prevents mothers from being the teachers that republicanism requires; thus, the nation needs childless women to adopt the role of mentorship, which consists of instructing and disciplining young women.


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pp. 343-370
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