Republican Motherhood and Women's Role Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Mercy Otis Warren "wrestled valiantly throughout her life with the problem of finding time for writing and reflection," Kerber explains on page 256. Warren had four children and a "large, elegant household," and while recognizing that the claims on her time - verses her own desire to write - presented no simple answer for her. That said, Kerber claims that Warren took the issues of republican motherhood "more seriously" than "virtually any other woman of her generation."

What are some of those republican motherhood issues that Warren took so seriously? For one thing, Warren envied unmarried women who, she said, were "...free from those constant interruptions that necessarily occupy the mind of the wife, the mother, and the mistress" (Kerber 256). That said, it was apparent that not only did Warren spend a bit of time being envious of those who didn't have as much domestic work to do as she did, she also took the time to make a pact with herself, a plan if you will, to make a "double life" possible. That double life plan would permit the "model woman" to be both intellectual and learned, and be a good mother and wife as well. On page 256 Kerber quotes Warren as saying that a smart plan of conduct "united with an industrious mind," would and could open the door to that double life she wished for. The point being made here is that there was a balance needed in the lives of republican mothers in this era, and Warren was said to be "scornful" of women who "swim on the surface of pleasure" - and also scornful, on the other side of the corn, of the woman who is "wholly immersed" with her domestic duties and has "no higher ideas than those which confine her to the narrow circle of domestic attention."

It is interesting how Kerber quotes Warren in this book, even though Warren was just a writer and mother who noted things with poignancy, but never led any parade of feminine demands for changes. That's not to suggest Warren is not worthy of the attention; it's an observation on Kerber's literary priorities. Meantime, Warren wrote that a woman is to be "pitied" who had "both genius and taste for literary enquiry" and yet could not leave those pursuits to tend to the needs of her children and her household.

On page 80, 82, and 83-84, Kerber goes to great lengths to portray Warren as a special woman who had foresight and wisdom, which no doubt was true, but again, Kerber's attention to Warren's work did not seem to lead to building a fire under future women to go out and make the world a more livable, just place. Warren's writings were more philosophical than directly political, and some of her material seemed almost like "Dear Abby" would write to a woman who was drowning in domestic chores but had a vision that she could do more with her intellect if she would only branch out. That said, it is true that Warren's diaries and journal postings are good reading, even today; to wit, Warren argued that, according to Kerber's paraphrasing of Warren, "Women's hearts and minds responded as accurately and as sensitively to public challenge as did men's." Warren did take a firm stand on a mother's duty to bring her children up as informed citizens; "...Women's duty to their own families," Warren wrote (Kerber 84), "required them to sort out public information accurately and to take a political position." Those political positions to be taken by women would be "arrived at by informed discussion with men and women outside their families." And after the political positions were solidified outside of the family, the positions could then be presented "within the family" and would be "justified in terms of service to and protection of husbands and sons." It always came back to the men in the family,

With a vast amount of proven skill, ambition, resourcefulness, staying power, and family-based clout, women weren't about to "return happily to a life devoid of political dimension..." And indeed, immediately following the war, American communities began providing education for girls in a new form; rather than receive an "education for marriage" (Nash, 173), which included learning needlework domestic kinds of skills, girls were now, the author insists, being taught grammar, geography, arithmetic and other scholarly pursuits hitherto reserved for male students. The times were changing, and women were to benefit from those changes, not due to the sudden illumination of the males that held power, but because the nation had just been through a horrifically bloody war and needed to cultivate all the resources that were available - women certainly being among those vital resources.

Linda Kerber weighs in on the reluctance for society to bring to fruition an educational movement for women; writing on page 196-199 of her book Women of the Republic, which was referenced earlier in this paper and covers a time frame after the Revolutionary War, Kerber quotes a Philadelphia woman named Gertrude Meredith, writing in the Port Folio: "Tell me, do you imagine, from your knowledge of the young men in this city, that ladies are valued according to their mental acquirements?" And would men in Philadelphia "not titter...at her expense, if a woman made a Latin quotation, or spoke with enthusiasm of Classical learning?" (Kerber 196). Newspapers of that era often insisted through their editorial departments that "intellectual accomplishment was inappropriate for a woman," and that an intellectual female was not only an "invader of a male province, but also somehow a masculine being," and for a woman to take on masculine traits or habits in that era was degrading (Kerber 198).

Notwithstanding those social and editorial obstacles, Kerber writes, women who had been brought up in the Republican motherhood mode eventually saw improvements in education. The beginnings of the closing of the literacy gap between men and women was part of the social dynamic in the 1790-1830 time frame, particularly in the North. Why in the North? Kerber suggests the reasons for this are tied to the political revolution and to the industrial revolution. Indeed, revolutionary leaders wanted to have confidence that the virtue of knowledge - closely related to moral character - would be carried out into the future by both women and men, in order to protect the republic.

While playing out the role of a woman who has been trained in the Republican motherhood mode and has emerged from that Republican motherhood experience, many American women during the first half of the 19th Century seemed "abnormally pale" to the visitor from Europe. The pale American woman was not in a position to become part of any reform movement, and this portion of the paper describes some of the medical issues women had, and how male doctors responded to those problems.

And not only was the American woman seen as pale, she was inferior medically, at least that was what the young male doctors were instructed in medical schools. Yes, the woman with her Republican motherhood experience was supposed to bring "comfort and beauty into a man's life" and also to "combat his more sensual nature and the materialism of business," and if perchance the republic should falter from it's intended place in the world, "achieving less than its high promise," the fault for that failure might be attached by society to its "seed-bearers - the too frail wives and mothers of its struggling statesmen and entrepreneurs." Those "seed-bearers" were more virtuous than men, and each woman during that era was "worthy of the respect a man would give his own mother," Welter explained on page 58.

And that respect also translated into extreme caution in the examining room of a doctor's office. The male doctor (there were practically no female doctors) was urged in medical school to "...maintain the most rigorous standards of propriety and gentlemanly behavior," which included having a third person in the room, making sure the female patient was "lightly clothed," and keeping the light "dim" so as not to allow her bare skin to receive too much attention. But though she was respected from a medical standpoint, she was also seen as "thinner, smaller, and more pliant; and the space destined to be filled with the brain is smaller."

This narrative of Welter's leads up to the fact that many women were kept away from activism and political involvement because of physical ailments for which male doctors had no cure, and often no clue. Female complaints were common, Welter writes on page 59; she was diagnosed as having "hysteria" when nothing else would seem to fit. When she complained about physical aliments doctors instead treated her as though she were having emotional issues. One particular illness ascribed to women was "greensickness," Welter mentions on…

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