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Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic (Early American Studies)

5 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0812240276
ISBN-10: 0812240278
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"'Pathbreaking' is an appellation reserved for few books; 'field-changing' is an even rarer designation. Nonetheless Rosemarie Zagarri's Revolutionary Backlash deserves both. She transforms the field of women's history and the standard political narrative that still dominates United States history."—William & Mary Quarterly



"Widely researched, gracefully written, and nicely illustrated. . . . A welcome corrective to both the usual women's history (without politics) and traditional political history (without women)."—North Carolina Historical Review



"This book makes a significant contribution to the literature of American women's history by defining a period that has received too little attention. The writing is gorgeous. The research is first-rate."—Edith B. Gelles, author of Abigail Adams: A Writing Life



"An engaging book that successfully marries political practice and political theory with gender ideology. It is also a persuasive book. . . . What makes [Zagarri's] study compelling is the pervasive presence of women; we hear their voices as they communicate privately in letters and as they argue publicly for rights. Visual evidences let us see them at political gatherings."—American Historical Review

About the Author

Rosemarie Zagarri is Professor of History at George Mason University.
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Product Details

  • Series: Early American Studies
  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (September 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812240278
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812240276
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,624,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Zagarri answers a question that has long puzzled me: Where did the cult of true womanhood come from? Why did Americans of the Jacksonian Era believe they needed to box women in so narrowly? Zagarri argues that the cult of true womanhood represented a backlash against the activities of "female politicians" during and immediately after the American Revolution. She argues persuasively that cultural observers were unnerved by women's open partisanship and spirited engagement with political news and that, as the United States settled into "the new republican order" (134), women were channeled away from partisan activity into attitudes and behaviors that would cultivate political tolerance and social cohesion. Women retained a political role, but after 1820 it was an explicitly non-partisan one.

Zagarri breaks new ground in defining the category of "female politicians," women who did not hold elected office but who followed politics eagerly, developing and expressing political opinions of their own (chapter 2). Many of the activities that Zagarri cites seem symbolic at best: women baked "election cakes" for election day, wore partisan rosettes to church, baited suitors who did not share their political views, and so forth. Others seem inevitable: women who managed farms and businesses for husbands absent on political business certainly contributed to the public good, but did they have any choice in the matter? But though many forms of women's political engagement seem rather modest in their impact, Zagarri amply documents women's interest in politics in the era 1760-1820 and also demonstrates that American men took women's political engagement seriously. This is the best explanation I've ever seen of what might have inspired the backlash against women's political engagement in the Jacksonian era and for much of the nineteenth century.

Essential reading for anyone interested in women in the Revolutionary or nineteenth-century United States.
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This is an excellent piece of historical scholarship. It's well-written and accessible (for upper-division undergrads on up), yet painstakingly research and full of nuanced arguments. More importantly, and unlike so many other similar books, it does not separate women's history from the mainstream into its own quaint narrative. Rather the author interjects the experiences and roles of women into the mainstream, revealing their roles and responses in American history. Well worth the effort of scholars and grad students to read, but also potentially useful in an advanced undergrad class.
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A fascinating account of what happened to colonial women who thought they would be getting better treatment and a greater voice in public affairs with the success of the American Revolution.
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