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"Republican Motherhood", the belief that women should pass on
Republican values to the next generation, gave women more rights to
education.
LEARNING OBJECTIVE [ edit ]
Explain the concept of Republican Motherhood and how it shaped the role of women in American
society
KEY POINTS [ edit ]
Women remained in the private sphere, but their work nowhad value in the public sphere,
uplifting the traditional concept of women's work.
Religion embraced Republican Motherhood as a method of passing down religious values to
children.
Women's access to education was expanded so that they could better instruct their children's
values.
The term Republican Motherhood was coined in the 1980's and was based primarily on the
writings of John Locke.
After the Revolution, Republican Motherhood contributed to women's increased roles in
education, abolitionism, andwomen's rights.
Republican Motherhood differed from other contemporary beliefs, such as those of Mary
Wollstonecraft which advocated a more public role.
Republican Motherhood was based on revolutionary concepts of Republicanism.
TERMS [ edit ]
Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft ( 27 April 1759 – 10 September 1797) was an eighteenth­century British
writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights.
Catharine Maria Sedgwick
Catharine Maria Sedgwick (December 28, 1789 – July 31, 1867), was an American novelist of what
is now referred to as "domestic fiction". She promoted Republican motherhood.
Private Sphere
The private sphere is the complement or opposite to the public sphere. The private sphere is a
certain sector of societal life in which an individual enjoys a degree of authority, unhampered by
interventions from governmental or other institutions. Examples of the private sphere are family
and home.
Give us feedback on this content: FULL TEXT [ edit ]
"Republican Motherhood" is a 20th century term for an attitude toward women's roles in the
emerging United States before, during, and after the American Revolution. It centered on the
belief that the patriots' daughters should be raised to uphold the ideals of republicanism, in
order to pass on Republican values to the next generation. Republican motherhood
meant civic duty.
Although it is an anachronism, the period of Republican Motherhood is hard to categorize in
the history of Feminism. On the one hand, it reinforced the idea of a domesticwomen's
sphere separate from the public world of men. On the other hand, it encouraged the
education of women and invested their "traditional" sphere with a dignity and importance
that had been missing from previous conceptions of Women's work.
Historians are divided on the question of whether republican motherhood implied that
women were on a path towards political equality at the founding of the United States, or
whether it signified a new but subservient role for women in the new republic. The idea of a
mother as a key force in the preservation and advancement of democracy can be seen as
elevating women to status as politically vital citizens, but it can equally be seen as a
reinforcement of traditional women's roles (merely focusing more on republican ideals in the
education taking place in the home).
The early seeds of the concept are found in the works of John Locke, the notable eighteenth­
century philosopher. Contrary to the traditional sexual hierarchy promoted by his
contemporaries, Locke believed that men and women had more equal roles in a marriage.
Women were expected to focus on domestic issues, but Locke's treatises helped appreciation
of the value of the domestic sphere. His treatises were influential in highlighting the role of
women in society.
With the growing emphasis being placed on republicanism, women were expected to help
promote these values. They had a special role in raising the next generation of children to
value patriotism and sacrifice of their own needs for the greater good of the country. By
doing so, the mothers would encourage their sons to pursue liberty and roles in the
government, while their daughters would perpetuate the domestic sphere with the next
generation. In addition, women were permitted to receive more of an education than they
previously had been allowed. Abigail Adams advocated women's education, as demonstrated
in many of her letters to her husband, the president John Adams .
Abigail Adams
For the most part, women were excluded from the political realm, but a few women, such as Abigail
Adams, entered the political arena as public figures.
Many Christian ministers actively promoted the ideals of republican motherhood. They
believed this role was the appropriate path for women, as opposed to the more public roles
promoted by Mary Wollstonecraft and her contemporaries. Traditionally, religion viewed
women as morally inferior to men, especially in the areas of sexuality and religion. However,
as the nineteenth century drew closer, many Protestant ministers and moralists argued that
modesty and purity were inherent in women's natures, giving them a unique ability to
promote Christian values with their children.
By the early 19th century, towns and cities were making new opportunities available for girls
and women. Especially influential were the writings of Lydia Maria Child, Catharine Maria
Sedgwick, and Lydia Sigourney, who developed the role of republican motherhood as a
principle that united state and family by equating a successful republic with virtuous
families. Women, as intimate and concerned observers of young children, were best suited to
this role. By the 1840s, these New England writers became respected models and were
advocates for improving education for females. Greater educational access included making
once male­only subjects of classical education, such as mathematics and philosophy, integral
to curricula at public and private schools for girls.
Although the notion of republican motherhood initially encouraged women in their private
roles, it eventually resulted in increased educational opportunities for American women, as
typified by Mary Lyon and the founding in 1837 of "Mount Holyoke Female Seminary", later
Mount Holyoke College. The ideal produced women with initiative and independence.
Educated Northern women became some of the strongest voices and organizers of
the abolitionist movement, which blossomed in the 1830s and 1840s. Working on civil rights
for enslaved people caused women to want more power for themselves, giving rise to
the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, and the women's rights movement in the United States.
They worked for suffrage, property rights, legal status, and child custody in family disputes.
The movement likely owes a debt to the emphasis on republican motherhood of fifty years
before.
Republican Mothers
This painting by James Peale depicts a Revolutionary War era family. Under Republican
Motherhood, a woman had an important contribution to the republic: to train her children
(particularly her daughters) to uphold republican values and pass them on to the next generation.
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