Mere Equals: The Paradox of Educated Women in the Early American Republic by Lucia McmahonMere Equals: The Paradox of Educated Women in the Early American Republic by Lucia Mcmahon

Mere Equals: The Paradox of Educated Women in the Early American Republic

byLucia Mcmahon

Hardcover | October 9, 2012

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In Mere Equals, Lucia McMahon narrates a story about how a generation of young women who enjoyed access to new educational opportunities made sense of their individual and social identities in an American nation marked by stark political inequality between the sexes. McMahon's archival research into the private documents of middling and well-to-do Americans in northern states illuminates educated women’s experiences with particular life stages and relationship arcs: friendship, family, courtship, marriage, and motherhood. In their personal and social relationships, educated women attempted to live as the "mere equals" of men. Their often frustrated efforts reveal how early national Americans grappled with the competing issues of women’s intellectual equality and sexual difference.

In the new nation, a pioneering society, pushing westward and unmooring itself from established institutions, often enlisted women’s labor outside the home and in areas that we would deem public. Yet, as a matter of law, women lacked most rights of citizenship and this subordination was authorized by an ideology of sexual difference. What women and men said about education, how they valued it, and how they used it to place themselves and others within social hierarchies is a highly useful way to understand the ongoing negotiation between equality and difference. In public documents, “difference” overwhelmed “equality,” because the formal exclusion of women from political activity and from economic parity required justification. McMahon tracks the ways in which this public disparity took hold in private communications. By the 1830s, separate and gendered spheres were firmly in place. This was the social and political heritage with which women’s rights activists would contend for the rest of the century.

Lucia McMahon is Associate Professor of History at William Paterson University. She is coeditor of To Read My Heart: The Journal of Rachel Van Dyke, 1810–1811.
Title:Mere Equals: The Paradox of Educated Women in the Early American RepublicFormat:HardcoverDimensions:248 pages, 9.25 × 6.13 × 0.39 inPublished:October 9, 2012Publisher:Cornell University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0801450527

ISBN - 13:9780801450525

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Between Cupid and Minerva

1. "More like a Pleasure than a Study": Women's Educational Experiences

2. “Various Subjects That Passed between Two Young Ladies of America": Reconstructing Female Friendship

3. “The Social Family Circle”: Family Matters

4. “The Union of Reason and Love”: Courtship Ideals and Practices

5. “The Sweet Tranquility of Domestic Endearment”: Companionate Marriage

6. “So Material a Change”: Revisiting Republican Motherhood

Conclusion: Education, Equality, or Difference

List of Archives

Editorial Reviews

"In Mere Equals, Lucia McMahon explores the intellectual lives of middle- and upper-class white women in the early republic. While we know about the growth of educational opportunities for women in this period and about the somewhat fluid situation as regards women's ability to participate in politics, McMahon does signal service in showing the meaning of intellectual equality in the private lives of ordinary women. Her study advances the discussion of white women’s history in this pivotal era."—C. Dallett Hemphill, Ursinus College, author of Siblings: Brothers and Sisters in American History