"Belonging to the World": Women's Rights and American Constitutional Culture

"Belonging to the World": Women's Rights and American Constitutional Culture

"Belonging to the World": Women's Rights and American Constitutional Culture

"Belonging to the World": Women's Rights and American Constitutional Culture

Synopsis

Belonging to the World: Women's Rights and American Constitutional Culture surveys the treatment of women in American law from the nation's earliest beginnings in British North America to the present. Placing the legal history of women in the broader social, political, and economic context of American history, this book examines the evolution of women's constitutional status in the United States, the development of rights consciousness among women, and their attempts to expand zones of freedom for all women. This is the first general account of women and American constitutional history to include the voices of women alongside the more familiar voices of lawmakers. An original work of historical synthesis, it delineates the shifting relationships between American law practice and women, both within the family and elsewhere, as it looks beyond the campaign for woman suffrage to broader areas of contest and controversy. Women's stories are used throughout the book to illustrate the extraordinary range and persistence of female rebellion from the 1630s up through the present era of "post-feminist" retrenchment and backlash. Belonging to the World: Women's Rights and American Constitutional Culture dispels the myth that the story of women and the law is synonymous only with woman suffrage or married women's property acts, showing instead that American women have struggled along many fronts, not only to regain and expand their rights as sovereign citizens, but also to remake American culture.

Excerpt

Belonging to the World”: Women's Rights and American Constitutional Culture is another volume in the Bicentennial Essays on the Bill of Rights, a series that has resulted from the fruitful collaboration of the Organization of American Historians' Committee on the Bicentennial of the Constitution and Oxford University Press. The committee in 1986 concluded that one of the most appropriate ways in which historians could commemorate the then forthcoming bicentennial of the Bill of Rights was to foster better teaching about the history of liberty. Too often, the committee concluded, undergraduate students could have learned more about that subject if only they would have had basic texts analyzing the evolution of central concepts associated with the Bill of Rights. Previous volumes, for example, have treated the rights of the accused to fair trial and the rights of individuals to use and hold their property freely. The committee, however, also wanted volumes that would deal with groups, such as African Americans, Native Americans, and women, for whom gaining and maintaining rights has proven difficult. The committee also knew that it did not want books that would be strictly guides to legal issues, although readers of this and the other volumes in the series will discover that each gives attention to case law and doctrinal developments. That is as it should be, of course; the histories of law and liberty, at least in the American experience, are inextricably joined. Yet the history of liberty has necessarily been a human drama, one in which lawyers, judges, plaintiffs, defendants, and organized social groups have shaped the development and adaptation of the first ten amendments and, more generally, the entire constitutional order, to social change. The law has had an important role in organizing this human drama, but these books are at their core about people making choices, sometimes through the law, often times outside of it, to challenge the established order in the hope of broadening the bounds of liberty.

Nowhere has this human drama been more vivid and the consequences for understanding the course of liberty more arresting than in the history of women's rights. Sandra F. VanBurkleo has met the challenge of not only filling the many gaps in this story but also in relating those developments to the shifting social status of women in America. Like the other books in this series, “Belonging to the World” offers a synthetic examination of its subject rooted in the best and most recent literature in history, political science, law, and in this instance, women's history and studies. Like the other authors in this series, Sandra VanBurkleo has taken as her goal charting the history of liberty across a constantly changing sea of social, cultural, and political development.

Mary K. B. Tachau had originally agreed to prepare this volume, but her untimely death robbed this series and the historical profession of one its most gifted interpreters. We are grateful to Sandra VanBurkleo for filling the resulting void with lucidity and imagination.

Kermit L. Hall General Editor

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