Women in Eighteenth-Century America: A Study of Opinion and Social Usage

Women in Eighteenth-Century America: A Study of Opinion and Social Usage

Women in Eighteenth-Century America: A Study of Opinion and Social Usage

Women in Eighteenth-Century America: A Study of Opinion and Social Usage

Excerpt

The purpose of this study is to show certain aspects of the position of women in eighteenth-century America -- in theory and in fact. Such a treatment of theoretical material is almost of necessity confined to women of the upper and middle classes. Advice offered women presupposed at least a bare competence and the opportunity for a conventional education however meagre that might be. Few writers, if any, concerned themselves with the appropriate accomplishments or peculiar moral duties of women of laboring families or on the frontier. Letters and journals written by women themselves usually represent educated and leisure classes; hence our knowledge of women in the lower ranks of society is relatively incomplete and offers a wide field for further investigation.

The first six chapters of the essay deal primarily with the theoretical aspects of women's position. When education attained any considerable proportions it was inextricably bound up with theory. For this reason it has seemed best to treat most phases of feminine education in the section on theory though individual schools often represented actual attainments as well as ambitious plans. The material selected for the study of the European background represents only a portion of the literature on the subject in England and France, but it is that part known to have been available in eighteenth-century America through reprints and importations, or to have been read and discussed by Americans. Comparatively little attention is given to the European background of the ideas of the Mathers and their contem-

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