History 246 Reading Guide

Anglo-American Women during the Revolution and the Early Republic:  “Republican Mothers” and “Republican Wives”

  • Ruth Bloch, “The Gendered Meanings of Virtue in Revolutionary America,” Signs 13 (1987), 37-58.  JSTOR
  • Document:  Judith Sargent Murray (Constantia), “On the Equality of the Sexes,” Massachusetts Magazine, or, Monthly Museum, Vol. II (March and April, 1790), 132-135, 223-226.  Digital Library, U. Penn or Constitution.org Primary Sources 

Further reading:

  • Nancy F. Cott, et al., eds., “Abigail Adams’s Letters from the Home Front” (1776-77); “A Father’s Advice to his Daughter” (1788); “Eliza Southgate Reflects” (1800-02), Root of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women 2nd ed. (1996), 71-76, 91-102.  (e-reserve)
  • Linda Kerber, Nancy Cott, et. al., “Beyond Roles, Beyond Spheres:  Thinking about Gender in the Early Republic,” William and Mary Quarterly 46.3 (1989), 565-81.  JSTOR
  • Joan Hoff Wilson, “The Illusion of Change:  Women and the American Revolution,” in Alfred Young, ed., The American Revolution: Explorations in the History of American Radicalism (1976), 386-431. [in Jean Friedman and William Shade, Our American Sisters 3rd ed. (1982) or 4th ed. (1987)].
  • Ruth Bloch, “American Feminine Ideals in Transition:  The Rise of Moral Mother,” Feminist Studies 4 (1978), 101-26.


In this class, we will begin to look at the third stage in Norton’s chronology:  the era of transformation (1750-1815). According to Norton, the situation for women after 1750 differed considerably from the previous era of transition. At a time during which intentional changes emerged in American polity, economy, and society, Americans not only became aware that women’s lives were changing, but they also began consciously to promote or oppose those changes.

  • What is the focus of Ruth Bloch’s essay?
  • What did the Revolutionaries (and classical republicanism more broadly) mean by “public virtue”? Why was it inherently masculine?
  • How and why did a separate image of female public spirit emerge in the 1780-90s?
  • What new understandings of virtue arose during that time?
  • What new relationship between virtue and government emerged in the post-Revolutionary years?