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Societal Impacts of the American Revolution

12d. "Republican Motherhood"

Mary Lyon, founder of Mt. Holyoke College
Gate at Mt. Holyoke College, Massachusetts, founded by Mary Lyon. Lyon, Zilpah Grant, Judith Sargent Murray, and others educated in the years following the Revolution, opened the gates to further education for women.

Women's role in society was altered by the American Revolution. Women who ran households in the absence of men became more assertive. Abigail Adams, wife of John, became an early advocate of women's rights when she prompted her husband to "Remember the Ladies" when drawing up a new government.

Pre-Revolutionary ministers, particularly in Puritan Massachusetts, preached the moral superiority of men. Enlightened thinkers rejected this and knew that a republic could only succeed if its citizens were virtuous and educated. Who were the primary caretakers of American children? American women. If the republic were to succeed, women must be schooled in virtue so they could teach their children. The first American female academies were founded in the 1790s. This idea of an educated woman became known as "republican motherhood."

As in the case of the abolition of slavery, changes for women would not come overnight. But the American Revolution ignited these changes. Education and respect would lead to the emergence of a powerful, outspoken middle class of women. By the mid nineteenth century, the Seneca Falls Declaration on the rights of women slightly alters Thomas Jefferson's words by saying: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal..."

On the Web
Abigail Smith Adams
A biography of John Adams' wife Abigail whose firm but gentle lobbying on behalf of women rights in the new republic is legendary.
Adams Letter
"If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation." Abigail Adams' letter to husband John, away at war, is filled with tenderness and a remarkable strength of purpose.
Declaration of Sentiments
From the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights in 1848, the Declaration of Sentiments echoes the wording of the Declaration of Independence of a half-century before.
Tea Parties and Sewing Circles
The Boston Tea Party was a man's response, but women of North Carolina organized pledge campaigns for the boycott of tea. During the war, women's associations raised funds for the American cause, the start of political organization and activism by American women.
Getting an education at the turn of the 19th century was not easy. At age 4 Mary Lyon walked a mile to school. At 7, she boarded away from home to attend another school. But her determination paid off; she founded Mt. Holyoke College, the nation's oldest continuing liberal arts institution for women.
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What was a woman's life like before the Revolution? Did it change after the war? Find out what guest expert Carol Berkin knows!
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