THE INTELLECTUAL CONSTRUCTION OF AMERICA AND THE EXPANSION OF FEMALE EDUCATION IN THE EARLY REPUBLIC, 1780-1810.

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1998

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Since the early 1980s, women's historians have worked to uncover the causes behind the expansion of educational opportunities for women in the early American Republic. Their work delineated how constructs about motherhood, wifehood, religion, and social status influenced the expansion of female education in the late eighteenthcentury. This research adds another powerful construct to the list: the civilization construct. Of all the constructs present in early American thought, beliefs about the meaning of civilization were among the most powerful. Inherited from European perspectives about the nature of civilized human societies, and modified by the American experience, the desire to join the ranks of "civilized" nations permanently changed educational practices. In 1996, a search for evidence of republic motherhood ideology in the records of the Young Ladies' Academy of Philadelphia laid the groundwork for this thesis. I expected repeated references to motherhood. I was struck by the virtual lack of motherhood rhetoric. Instead, the trustees and students repeatedly cited the needs of their "civilization." Further research showed that civilization was cited by others, too. Ina deliberate search for more references to civilization, writings by Benjamin Rush, Thomas Jefferson, Noah Webster, Samuel Smith, Robert Coram and others were examined. Beliefs about civilization continually appeared in rhetoric surrounding education reform: in advertisements and prospectuses, poems, songs, essays, and speeches. I searched newspapers, magazines, private correspondence, records of public forums, and reprints of commencement speeches. It was everywhere. The legacy of the civilization construct and its affect on female education is traced here.

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