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Learning to Stand and Speak
Women, Education, and Public Life in America's Republic
Paper: 978-0-8078-5921-6 ($28.95)
University of North Carolina Press
Education was decisive in recasting women's subjectivity and the lived reality of their collective experience in post-Revolutionary and antebellum America. Asking how and why women shaped their lives anew through education, Mary Kelley measures the significant transformation in individual and social identities fostered by female academies and seminaries. Constituted in a curriculum that matched the course of study at male colleges, women's liberal learning, Kelley argues, played a key role in one of the most profound changes in gender relations in the nation's history: the movement of women into public life.
By the 1850s, the large majority of women deeply engaged in public life as educators, writers, editors, and reformers had been schooled at female academies and seminaries. Although most women did not enter these professions, many participated in networks of readers, literary societies, or voluntary associations that became the basis for benevolent societies, reform movements, and activism in the antebellum period. Kelley's analysis demonstrates that female academies and seminaries taught women crucial writing, oration, and reasoning skills that prepared them to claim the rights and obligations of citizenship.
Education played a decisive role in recasting women's collective experience in post-Revolutionary and antebellum America. Asking how and why women shaped their lives anew through education, Mary Kelley measures the significant transformation in individual and social identities fostered by female academies and seminaries. With a curriculum that matched the course of study at male colleges, women's liberal learning, Kelley argues, cultivated one of the most profound changes in gender relations in the nation's history: the movement of women into public life. Kelley's analysis demonstrates that female academies and seminaries taught women crucial writing, oration, and reasoning skills that prepared them to claim the rights and obligations of citizenship.
About the Author
Mary Kelley is Ruth Bordin Collegiate Professor of History, American Culture, and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. She is author, coauthor, or editor of six books, including Private Woman, Public Stage: Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth-
Mary Kelley provides a pathbreaking interpretation of the new and expanding spaces for female education between the Revolution and the Civil War. She demonstrates with wonderful clarity how women used the written and spoken word to play a defining role in transforming American civil society from an eighteenth-century domain of civility to a nineteenth-century arena of purposeful social action. A landmark book.
Kelley does a splendid job of documenting the means, formal and informal, through which women of the middle and upper classes prepared themselves to enter the civic life of the new nation. Synthesizing the scholarship on women in the early Republic with a wealth of archival material, she paints a rich portrait of women’s minds on the move.
We have long known that the early Republic was notably literate. We have Tocqueville as a witness to that. But now, thanks to Mary Kelley’s astute, elegant, and remarkably thorough inquiry, we appreciate as never before the critical role played by aspiring women in that phenomenon and the cultural consequences for themselves and for their nascent civil society.
In crisp and often elegant writing, [Kelley] ensures that, because of the indelible and finely etched image of learned women she provides, they will not soon be forgotten agaom.
--Journal of American Studies
This superb book persuasively and gracefully makes the case that education . . . was the decisive factor propelling women's entrance into the public sphere during the nineteenth century. . . . Deserves the widest possible readership.
Elegant. . . . Kelley has drawn from a vast array of sources, crossing regional and racial lines, to produce a meticulous argument. Her story explains rather that valorizes.
--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Offers fresh and significant insights into literature and literacy, education and social identity, region and nation, gender and access to learning among American women of earlier eras.
[An] innovative and meticulously researched book.
--American Antiquarian Society Newsletter
This book fills an important gap in the historiography. Kelley has provided a wealth of detail about this lost world of educated women, which had a lasting impact on defining women's cultural authority in American society.
--American Historical Review
[Kelley's] analysis reflects the nuanced reading that is necessary when employing literary discourse for historical explanation. The volume adds considerably to the historiography on American women, education, and politics.
--Journal of the Early Republic
A treasure trove of stories about famous and obscure women who cherished learning, books, and, especially, the opportunity to exchange ideas with other women.
--The North Carolina Historical Review
A detailed analysis of the relationship between education and women's participation in civil society. . . .Best utilized in a course examining the historic relationship between women's education and women's participation in public life.
The book's greatest strength is its archival depth and breadth. . . . Presents an impressive number of examples drawn from the experiences of women across seven decades and at least a dozen states. . . . An important resource for all historians of gender, education or print culture in early republic and antebellum America.