Claiming the Pen: Women and Intellectual Life in the Early by Catherine Kerrison

By Catherine Kerrison

In 1711, the imperious Virginia patriarch William Byrd II spitefully refused his spouse Lucy's plea for a e-book; a century later, woman Jean Skipwith put an order that despatched the Virginia bookseller Joseph Swan scurrying to thrill. those vignettes bracket a century of switch in white southern women's lives. Claiming the Pen bargains the 1st highbrow heritage of early southern ladies. It situates their analyzing and writing in the literary tradition of the broader Anglo-Atlantic international, so far understood to be a masculine province, at the same time they inhabited the constrained, provincial social circles of the plantation South.

Catherine Kerrison uncovers a brand new realm of woman schooling during which conduct-of-life advice―both the dry pedantry of sermons and the risqué plots of novels―formed the middle interpreting application. girls, she reveals, discovered to imagine and write via interpreting prescriptive literature, now not Greek and Latin classics, in impromptu domestic study rooms, instead of faculties and universities, and from kinfolk and acquaintances, instead of schoolmates and professors. Kerrison additionally unearths that southern ladies, of their willingness to "take up the pen" and so declare new rights, seized upon their racial superiority to offset their gender inferiority. In depriving slaves of schooling, southern girls claimed literacy as a privilege in their whiteness, and perpetuated and reinforced the repressive associations of slavery.

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Fordyce was a Presbyterian clergyman from Scotland, yet his Sermons resonated with an Anglican mother who lived an ocean away in colonial Virginia. Indeed, as Mary Ambler’s journal makes plain, the Atlantic Ocean served more as conduit than obstacle to the flow of ideas about what it meant to be female. Her views of womanhood conformed entirely to the most current statement of genteel English teachings. If she had ever entertained any doubts before, her travels certainly confirmed the importance of appearance and demeanor in opening the right doors to the right circles, where she had been accepted and assisted by the right people.

Never happier than when reading and writing about politics, Adams fully expected her daughter also to share that passion. 115 In their writings, these New England women proved the fallacy of the popular wisdom of female intellectual incapacities by achieving that which was allegedly impossible for females. Judith Sargent Murray’s Gleaner was one of the most explicit American statements on the intellectual equality of men and women; she was also insistent that women’s education prepare them to be economically selfsufficient.

Bolstered in many cases by this empowering experience, southern women ventured further still, into the streets, gathering orphans and penniless women on whom to shower their benevolence, and even into state legislatures, incorporating their charitable associations to force state recognition and protection of their efforts. From our vantage point in the twenty-first century, these changes may not seem consequential. But the scope of this transformation should not be downplayed, for in spite of the changes in women’s experiences, there had also been a great deal of continuity, even through the Revolutionary era.

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