Republican Motherhood in the Words of Women
Farr, Ivy Elizabeth
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Since Linda Kerber published her influential book Women of the Republic in 1985, historians have characterized women of the early national period as "republican mothers," but to what extent did women themselves internalize the ideal? This study examines the prescriptive literature and private letters written by Benjamin Rush, who modern historians tout as one of the greatest supporters of republican motherhood, in contrast to the letters of one prominent Philadelphia woman, Esther Bowes Cox. Cox's background as a Patriot, a member of the upper class, and a friend of Benjamin Rush, prepared her well to support the ideal Linda Kerber calls republican motherhood, and yet, she did not. Furthermore, close examination of Rush's writings reveals that he advocated more practical education for women rather than political involvement in the new nation. This research challenges the widely accepted concept of republican motherhood and suggests that historians should reexamine the roles and interests of women in the Early Republic.
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