Women's Changing Roles as
of a New Republic
After the Revolutionary War, many changes in women’s education began taking place based on the expectations for the new Republic’s citizenry as well changing social patterns.
New expectations for America’s citizens led to the idea of Republican motherhood. The Revolutionary war taught its founders that it was useful to be prepared for any possibility. Themes of independence and self-reliance meant that the success of the nation required highly intelligent and virtuous citizens. They saw the education of women as one way to prepare the new country and its citizens for success. The expansion of women’s education was not meant for their own benefit but to place them in a position to mold future generations into good citizens and civic leaders.
Despite its intentions or purpose, many women took advantage of these new opportunities. Republican Motherhood offered women a chance to seek education and participate in civic culture. Women who made efforts to participate in politics were ridiculed and treated with much hostility. However, the Republican Mother was spared from this hostility as she was seen as committed to her family and acting in the interest of raising a patriotic son. Republican Motherhood was an important step for women because it allowed women to enter the civic culture to a certain extent and it served as a justification for women’s education. (3)
Judith Sargent Murray (right) was one of the women associated with the Republican Mother movement, but her thoughts on the education of women were more radical than the ideas involved with this movement. She felt that the typical chores of women’s lives did not offer any intellectual stimulation and that if women did not find more uses for their intellect they would use it for ill purposes. She also believed that the accusation that women were intellectually inferior stemmed not from their natural abilities but from the way they were raised, as boys were encouraged to learn while girls were neglected. Murray also emphasized the importance of teaching girls about women’s past achievements to empower them. Murray published many plays, essays, and poems in which she expressed her forward thinking ideas.
Another changing trend was that many of America’s youth began choosing their own spouses based on romance and companionship. In response to this transformation parents felt their girls should receive an education that would make them more attractive to well-bred husbands. Education was also regarded as beneficial for those women who had the misfortune to marry less reliable men, in which case they would be more capable of educating their own children and managing the family’s business affairs. Thomas Jefferson cited this very reason for educating his daughter, Martha Jefferson, saying: “The chance that in marriage she will draw a blockhead I calculate at about fourteen to one, and…the education of her family will probably rest on her own ideas and directions without assistance.”(4) Jefferson’s prediction was right. Martha Jefferson had twelve children and her husband was said to have become mentally ill later in life, leaving Martha Jefferson with a lot of responsibility.
The increase in the availability of print materials also had an impact on the improvement of women’s education. The end of British Colonial rule created conditions for industrialization making printed materials less costly and more accessible. It became more and more difficult for those who were illiterate to function.