Ep. 10: Gender in Early America

In this episode, Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, Roy Rogers, and Sara Damiano discuss how female gender roles changed from the colonial period through the American Revolution, as well as the ways in which gender historians approach archival sources and approaches to teaching gender history.

TOPIC

Gender history and women’s history emerged as a major field in the late 1960s and 1970s. Some of the most pioneering work in the nascent field was done by historians of early America covering the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. For example, through the fascinating and groundbreaking work of historians such as Lois Green Carr and Lorena Walsh, we learned about women in the early Chesapeake. Subsequent work by Mary Beth Norton and Linda Kerber illuminated the impact of the American Revolution on gender roles with the rise of “republican motherhood.” In recent decades, scholars have continued producing work that tells us more and more about the role of women in the economy of the colonial period and early republic, the impact of elite women on national politics, and the complexities and diversities of the experiences of female slaves and Native American women. Over the past four decades, gender history has been one of the most exciting and consistently vibrant subfields in early American history.

GUEST PANELIST

Sara Damiano is a PhD candidate in the History Department at Johns Hopkins University. She has been a Dissertation Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and is a member of The Junto. Her research links gender, economic and legal history in order to investigate the operation of gendered power within social institutions in early America and the British Atlantic World.

QUESTIONS

  • What kind of roles did women have in colonial society?
  • How were gender roles defined and how rigidly were they enforced?
  • How did women contribute to the American Revolution and social change?
  • How did gender influence the way early colonists understood Native Americans?
  • What does the story of Pocahontas tell us about gender in early America?
  • How crucial were women to the imperial resistance movement in the 1760s?
  • Did the American Revolution change the status of women?
  • What is “republican motherhood?”
  • When was the first great wave of early American women’s history produced?
  • What is the distinction between “gender history” and “women’s history?”
  • What are the unique challenges faced by historians trying to understand gender and women in early America?
  • How do we teach early American women’s and gender history?

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FURTHER READING

Allgor, Catherine. Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000.

Berkin, Carol. First Generations: Women in Colonial America. New York: Hill and Wang, 1996.

––––––. Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence. New York: Knopf, 2005.

Bloch, Ruth H. Gender and Morality in Anglo-American Culture, 1650-1800. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Boydston, Jeanne. Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Brown, Kathleen. Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarch: Gender, Race and Power in Colonial Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Clark, Emily. Masterless Mistresses: The New Orleans Ursulines and the Development of a New World Society, 1727-1834. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

––––––. The Strange History of the American Quadroon: Free Women of Color in the Revolutionary Atlantic World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

Conger, Vivian Bruce. The Widows’ Might: Widowhood and Gender in Early British America. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

Cott, Nancy F. The Bonds of Womanhood: “Woman’s Sphere” in New England, 1780-1835. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977.

Crane, Elaine Forman. Ebb Tide in New England: Women, Seaports, and Social Change, 1630-1800. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.

––––––. Witches, Wife Beaters, and Whores: Common Law and Common Folk in Early America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011.

Fatherly, Sarah. Gentlewomen and Learned Ladies: Women and Elite Formation in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia. Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 2012.

Godbeer, Richard. The Overflowing of Friendship: Love between Men and the Creation of the American Republic. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

Hartigan-O’Connor, Ellen. The Ties That Buy: Women and Commerce in Revolutionary America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

Haulman, Kate. The Politics of Fashion in Eighteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

Kamensky, Jane. Governing the Tongue: The Politics of Speech in Early New England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Kelley, Mary. Learning to Stand and Speak: Women, Education, and Public Life in America’s Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Kerber, Linda K. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

Klepp, Susan E. Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760-1820. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Lyons, Clare A. Sex among the Rabble: An Intimate History of Gender and Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730-1830. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

McMahon, Lucia. Mere Equals: The Paradox of Educated Women in the Early American Republic. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2012.

Morgan, Jennifer L. Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Norton, Mary Beth. Founding Mothers & Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1996.

––––––. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800. Boston: Little, Brown, 1980.

––––––. Separated by Their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2011.

Perdue, Theda. Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

Reis, Elizabeth. Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

––––––. A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. New York: Vintage, 1990.

Wulf, Karin. Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000.

Zagarri, Rosemarie. Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

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