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“Republican Motherhood” and the “Cult of Domesticity”

“Republican Motherhood” and the “Cult of Domesticity”

Human rights theme is one of the most discussed issues all over the world. There are different examples of the human rights violation and I would like to outline three of them: gender, class issues and racism in the light of the republican motherhood.

It is important to rely to the fact that the term “republican motherhood” has been applied in the 20-th century for defining the attitude towards roles of females in the emerging United States in the timeframes 1760 to 1800:  before, during and after the American Revolution. Society’s expectations of motherhood were hypocritical for wage-earning women.  Industry exploited women The core idea of the republican motherhood is rising of the patriots’ daughters on the ideals of republicanism. The idea of republican motherhood began to emerge after the Revolution. The American Revolution led to expanded support for women’s educational opportunities.  Women participated in the American Revolution by manufacturing many of their own items. Women were committed to the cause of freedom.

Civic duty has been implied by the republican motherhood. Even while taking in account the fact that it is an anachronism, it is a complicated issue to categorize the Republican Motherhood in the history of Feminism. On the one hand, the idea of separating the domestic women’s sphere from the public world of men has been promoted and on the other hand, the education of women has been encouraged

That is why the core essence of Republican Motherhood notion implies the need of good education for females in order to provide them with the possibility of serving their country better and in the light of rising children in the republican manner in particular. The education of women should go beyond making them better companions and mothers.

Till the XIX century the conditions for recognition of women’s rights to self-administration of property, to elect and to be elected, legally, were prepared. Before that, the rights of females have been restricted to the scopes of domestic issues executing and in addition they have not been provided with the right of spending money without the acceptance  of their husband- “.Woman is by nature inferior to man. She is his inferior in passion, his inferior in intellect, and his inferior in physical strength..”

Females have been mainly employed as hats makers in 1837 in Massachusetts. The leading occupations for women wage earners in Massachusetts were making hats, textiles, boots, and shoes. Women also worked in domestic service, teaching, and garment making: females have been the part of the paid work force, but limited occupations were available for women.

In other words such labor activity has not implied the wide range education and intellectual knowledge. Hand making has been the core activity for females at that period of time.

Impetus to this movement was given by the victory of the North American colonies of England in the XVIII century and by the creation of the creation of the young American republic at the end of the XVIII century. In Europe, after the victory of the First American Revolution 1775 – 1783’s, women did not get these rights.  As an vident example it is possible to consider the letter, written by a Philadelphia woman in 1776: “I have retrenched every superfluous expense in my table and family; tea I have not drunk since last Christmas, nor bought a new cap or gown…”. That is why it is possible to make a conclusion that the women’s rights have been limited to the minimal rate and all the expenditures have been restricted for them.

They have not received them also during the bourgeois revolutions of the XVIII century. But the revolutionary events have great impact on active organization of groups in defense of women.

It should be said that the period of the American Enlightenment, which covers about 50 years – from 1765 to 1815, is, in the words of John Adams, “the age of revolutions and constitutions”. It began with the development of the argument for separation from Britain and the culmination of it was the Declaration of Independence.

American women in the person of Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, tried to express themselves and their rights in the run-up of the Declaration of Independence. However, Adams holds the view that all human are born with equal rights, but with different features and capabilities, and “men and women differ in their beauty and wisdom”. He believed that a woman’s mind and character are not suitable for serious study. Therefore, when enlighteners were including to the Declaration of Independence the phrase “all men are created equal”, they had no idea to extend this provision to women. Only Paine advocated truly universal suffrage, but decided not to insist on it.

None of the enlighteners was specifically engaged in “women’s issue”. Actually such an issue did not exist for them. They rarely spoke about it in their books, newspaper articles, letters about the equality of men and women, the problems of marriage and family and women’s access to education. But in this case, their arguments were just speculative, no practical steps have been taken.

Woman in Colonial America was a “second-class citizen”. Little has changed just after the revolution. Ideology and laws justified discrimination against women, claiming her biological, intellectual, mental and moral inferiority. American woman could not dispose of the property, even if she got it as a dowry or inheritance. All that she had, even her earnings, were disposed by her husband. Only husband represented his wife before the law and the church. Married women had no right to sign the contract and do business, file a lawsuit for divorce. If a marriage is dissolved by the husband, all the property and children were transferred to him. Very hard was life for the wives of southern planters. Wife played the role of a white concubine among Negro harem, with the only difference that her children were not on sale, and inherited the property. In addition, according to the information, offered in the Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs, the ideals of American womanhood have not been extended to slaves and that is why the females have been sexually abused and have not been provided with the options, to prevent such attitude towards them.

Thomas Jefferson is known as the author of the bill of “General Dissemination of Knowledge”. System of education proposed by him was aimed at the education of citizens and raising elites to control the state. The project involved three levels of education, and none of them have called for the inclusion of girls in the education process.

However, there were supporters of women’s education. For example, one of the enlighteners from Pennsylvania, Benjamin Rush, considered it necessary to educate women: “every citizen has in the liberty, and the possible share…ladies should be qualified to a certain degree by a peculiar and suitable education”. Fuller has considered that “females should be fit for such companionship (being an educated companion for males)… Earth knows no fairer, holier relation than that of a mother…”. Sarah Bagley has considered that it is not appropriate to “enclose mothers of the next generations within brick walls of a cotton mill from twelve and a half to thirteen and a half hours per day” because such approach would have the negative impact on the education and treatment of the next generation.

The possibility of obtaining of scientific knowledge by women was ardently defended by Benjamin Franklin, demonstrating the need to teach the girls a wide range of scientific disciplines.

If we try to create a generalized portrait of a woman, which American thinkers would like to see in the society they create, then we will have the following: an attractive, moderately educated lady, with a number of virtues, but still subordinated to men in all spheres of life.

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Speaking about struggle for women rights, we should notice Mercy Otis Warren. The contribution made by this woman in the early American political thought, in the fight for the adoption of the Bill of Rights, is inestimable. Contemporaries had great respect for her understanding of policy issues and processes. Her advice and opinions were asked by such prominent figures as Samuel and John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The predecessor of the modern feminist movement, she was sure that women’s interests are not limited to the home circle.

Mercy was the only woman – a contemporary of the events, who wrote a full-scale history of the American Revolution – the three volumes of the History of Recovery, Development and Completion of the American Revolution.

Undoubtedly, the victory of the American Revolution had important and far-reaching international implications, including in regard to the status and rights of women. In particular, when the women’s movement manifesto was proclaimed by American activists at the first-ever conference on women’s rights in 1848 in the town of Seneca Falls (New York), the author of the manifesto Elizabeth Stanton emphasized the connection with the “sacred” to American democracy document, adopted in during the American Revolution, the “Declaration of Independence”, where it was declared that “all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights”.

 To conclude, it is important to put an emphasis on the fact that the protection of the females’ social and legal rights in the US has begun from the times of republican motherhood and is mainly based on the core principles of republican motherhood.

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