The Revolutionary Era: Primary Documents on Events from 1776 to 1800

By Carol Sue Humphrey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13

The Role of Women, 1780–1798

In colonial America, women fulfilled an important function in society. Besides the usual roles of wife and mother, women also played an important economic role. In frontier areas, men and women worked together to produce the food and supplies necessary for survival. Even in towns, women often helped their artisan husbands in the shop to produce the family income. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, however, this reality began to change, at least for well-to-do women in the towns and villages along the East Coast. Increasingly, these women were less involved in the day-to-day economics of making a living. By the nineteenth century, the ideal American society would be divided into the man’s sphere, the realm of work and making money, and the woman’s sphere, the world of the home—the retreat from the evil world. This division was slowly developing in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

These changes in the role of women encouraged changes in attitudes and ideas about women. In the seventeenth century, women had been seen as the source of much evil in the world. As the “daughters of Eve,” women were particularly susceptible to sin and often led men into wrongdoing, as Eve had led Adam to sin. 1 Women were weak, lacking reason, unable to learn and be educated, and easily led astray, so they had to be guarded and protected by the men in their lives. Slowly, through the course of the eighteenth century, these ideas changed. Increasingly, women were seen as rational beings who could be educated to play a useful role in the young republic. Growing emphasis was placed on the role of women as the wives and mothers of citizens of the United States. Increasingly, the marriage vision came to be the “companionate ideal of marriage” 2 —the idea that men and women were friends and companions in marriage. In order to be good companions and good mothers, women needed to be educated. It slowly

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The Revolutionary Era: Primary Documents on Events from 1776 to 1800
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Foreword vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Chronology of Events xix
  • Chapter 1 1
  • Chapter 2 33
  • Chapter 3 49
  • Chapter 4 67
  • Note 79
  • Chapter 5 81
  • Chapter 6 93
  • Chapter 7 105
  • Chapter 8 119
  • Chapter 9 127
  • Chapter 10 137
  • Chapter 11 161
  • Chapter 12 181
  • Chapter 13 189
  • Chapter 14 201
  • Note 210
  • Chapter 15 211
  • Chapter 16 223
  • Chapter 17 233
  • Chapter 18 243
  • Chapter 19 253
  • Chapter 20 263
  • Chapter 21 277
  • Chapter 22 295
  • Chapter 23 303
  • Chapter 24 313
  • Chapter 25 323
  • Notes 335
  • Chapter 26 337
  • Selected Bibliography 349
  • Index 353
  • About the Author 359
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