Learning to Stand and Speak

Women, Education, and Public Life in America's Republic
Mary Kelley
Paperback price: $42.50
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Publisher: Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press
Imprint: OIEAHC
Cloth/Hardcover Publication Date: 09/2006
Pages: 312
Paperback ISBN: 9780807859216
Paperback Publication Date: 09/2008
Ebook ISBN: 9780807839188


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.

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-Century America, The Limits of Sisterhood: The Beecher Sisters on Women’s Rights and Woman’s Sphere, and The Power of Her Sympathy: The Autobiography and Journal of Catharine Maria Sedgwick.


“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.”–Feminist Teacher

“A fresh interpretation of the place of education, reading, and voluntary association in American women’s lives between the Revolution and the Civil War.”–New England Quarterly

“Ambitious and fascinating. . . . Women’s voices are vibrantly present.”–Journal of American History

“[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

“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

“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.”–Common-Place

“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.”–The Historian

“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

“[An] innovative and meticulously researched book.”–American Antiquarian Society Newsletter

“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

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