NameNelson, Robert E. (author), Livingston, James (chair), Fabian, Ann (internal member), Hewitt, Nancy (internal member), Lears, Jackson (internal member), Giarelli, Jim (outside member), Rutgers University, Graduate School - New Brunswick,
Women--Education--United States--History--19th century,
Women--United States--Social conditions--19th century
DescriptionMy dissertation explores women's moral and educational labor--teaching, writing, and reforming--in the United States during the nineteenth century. Focusing on the social ideas and the lives of Emma Willard (b. 1787), Catharine Beecher (b. 1800), and Elizabeth Peabody (b. 1804), this study argues that an expansion of women's moral and educational labor played a significant role in political and social changes during this period. The Sophoclean heroine Antigone of the play named for her serves as a representative of womanhood in the emerging democratic culture of the United States.
Antigone tells the story of a woman who tries to fulfill her family obligations by burying her brother, killed in a civil war. The conflict between a citizen's duties to the state versus a sister's duties to family, illustrates the concept of "separate spheres," with its firm distinction between private and public. That these duties are not separate, that they come into conflict, is the moral dilemma of the play. Antigone challenges the state by publicly articulating her sense of family duty. Unlike her brothers, she does not claim the throne for herself. Like many American women in the nineteenth century, Antigone makes political arguments as a woman without claiming the same political rights as a man.
American women of this generation did not all believe in sexual equality, and so their social ideas imagined reform within a different framework than political parties and elections. Willard, Beecher, and Peabody understand themselves and other middle-class women as participating in the democratic culture of the United States. This participation was through their moral and educational labor, not voting. Their ambivalence toward women's suffrage was less a case of reactionary conservatism and more an attempt to assert the importance of civil society as the best ground for reform. Today, that position can seem alien in its conception of women as non-voters, but the social ideas of these women continue to speak to debates over the role that electoral politics can play in social change and to the way that the disenfranchised can speak to political authority.
NoteIncludes bibliographical references.
CollectionGraduate School - New Brunswick Electronic Theses and Dissertations
RightsThe author owns the copyright to this work.