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No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship [Paperback]

Linda K. Kerber
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 1, 1999 0809073846 978-0809073849
This pioneering study redefines women's history in the United States by focusing on civic obligations rather than rights. Looking closely at thirty telling cases from the pages of American legal history, Kerber's analysis reaches from the Revolution, when married women did not have the same obligation as their husbands to be "patriots," up to the present, when men and women, regardless of their marital status, still have different obligations to serve in the Armed Forces.

An original and compelling consideration of American law and culture, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies emphasizes the dangers of excluding women from other civic responsibilities as well, such as loyalty oaths and jury duty. Exploring the lives of the plaintiffs, the strategies of the lawyers, and the decisions of the courts, Kerber offers readers a convincing argument for equal treatment under the law.

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Editorial Reviews Review

In the second half of the 20th century, "rights talk," characteristic of political and legal discourse in the United States, has been forcefully invoked by minorities and women in their respective quests for equal treatment under the law. In No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies, University of Iowa history professor Linda K. Kerber looks at the other side of the rights equation: the issue of obligations. Kerber argues that while men's rights have been bought by their obligations to public service, for women the obligations were to family. Absolution from public service--the constitutional right to be "ladies"--has clear roots in the principle of coverture, by which a woman's legal identity is absorbed by a man's, be it her father, husband, or other protector. This, Kerber writes, is not a boon for women. Women have always had obligations, she notes, it is merely "the forms and objects of demand" that have differed, and disparities between the obligations of men and women have affected women's qualitative ability to exercise rights, such as trial by a jury of one's peers. Kerber presents a series of narratives focusing on particular women whose situations became catalysts for political and legal change and the women, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who helped effect those transformations. No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies is engrossing reading for layperson and scholar alike. --Julia Riches --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Abby and Julia Smith, two 19th-century women who challenged their obligation to pay taxes because they were denied the vote, are among the many extraordinary women portrayed in this fascinating history by the author of Women of the Republic and Toward an Intellectual History of Women. In invoking such figures, Kerber illustrates the development of American law defining women's civic obligations from Revolutionary times to the present. Beginning with the distasteful common law doctrine of coverture, Kerber, a history professor at the University of Iowa, describes how the law, past and present, has shielded women from civic obligations otherwise exacted from men. Kerber finds that coverture, which reduced women's civic identities to those of their husbands, "camouflage[d] practices that made them more vulnerable to other forms of public and private power." With this insight, she links women's exemption from civic duties such as jury or military service to the denial of women's civic rights, such as suffrage, a jury of her peers, aid, citizenship, property, even her body. Backing this thoughtful analysis, Kerber presents meticulous research in a nonideological and lively manner. In each of Kerber's discussions of specific civic obligations and rights, she depicts a process of continuous evolution. By combining careful analysis of the law with examples of women challenging the status quo, Kerber offers a unique and powerful history of the continuing struggle for equality.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang (September 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809073846
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809073849
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #254,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I had trouble putting it down. April 17, 2000
This is an absolutely fascinating book. The material in it is interesting, detailed and very well written. She uses legal cases as a starting point to discuss women's civic obligations. It becomes very clear that people's obligations have an enormous effect on their rights and the roles they are expected to play in society. The individual cases help keep things grounded in people's lives and not just legal theories. There is an amazing amount of information that I never knew which really helped me understand how things were and how they changed.
One case study was two women who felt that they were being charged more in property taxes that the other land owners in the area. They decided to stop paying property taxes using the slogan "no taxation without representation". These two women had received training in political activism with the abolition and temperence movements which was common among the people who worked for women's sufferage. The "no taxation without representation" was one of the first legal arguments used to try and obtain voting rights for women and initially it was a strong one. It had certainly worked to increase the various classes of men that were allowed to vote. With women, unfortunately, the courts chipped away at the legel precident rather than following it. This one case allowed Ms. Kerber to talk about how women were hurt by being kept out of the political system, the women's sufferage movement, and the response of the courts and politicians.
This book gave me an immense amount of food for thought. I highly recommend it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely fascinating stories. December 15, 1998
By A Customer
This is that rare history book that can keep one up late, utterly unable to wait til the next day for the end of the story. Kerber focuses on little-known women and their conflicts with government over their rights and obligations as citizens: loyalty during wartime, voting, serving on juries, paying taxes. She brings these stories to life with dramatic, clear writing. If you're interested in American history, don't miss this book
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great book from Kerber - July 6, 1999
By A Customer
I have read a lot of women's and Constitutional history, and still my jaw literally dropped open several times while reading this book. Her use of real scenarios made the book readable and enjoyable. People have said lately that we are focused too much on our rights and not our responsibilities; it's scary to see that whether women must bear the responsibilities of citizenship is still in many ways an open question.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable, well documented and informative March 11, 1999
By A Customer
I'm definately interested in reading and understanding more about the situation women face today. This book was an incredibly informative education on the evolution of debate about what exactly is a woman's place in society. It helped clarify vague confusion I've felt about things being not yet fully equal, but not having the background or vocabulary to explain why.
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