Daughters of Liberty
My dissertation examines the social, cultural, and political lives of women in the early Republic through an analysis of the first women's literary circle formed in the United States after the Revolution, the Boston Gleaning Circle. The Gleaners, as the women referred to themselves, instead of engaging primarily in charitable and religious work, which was the focus of other women's groups, concentrated on their own intellectual improvement. The early Republican era witnessed the first sustained interest in women's education in North America and the Gleaners saw women as uniquely blessed by the Revolution and therefore duty-bound to improve their minds and influence their society. My study builds on, and challenges, the historiography of women in the early Republic by looking at writings from a group of unmarried women whose lives did not fit the ideal of "republican motherhood," but who still considered themselves patriotic Americans. The Gleaners believed that the legacy of the American Revolution left them, as young women, a crucial role in American public life. Five of the Gleaners had a father who was a Son of Liberty and participated in the Boston Tea Party. Their inherited legacy of patriotism and politics permeated the lives of these young women. Many historians argue that the Revolution brought few gains for women, but the Gleaners demonstrate that for these young Bostonians, the ideas of the Revolution impacted them. Making intellectual contributions was not easy, however, and the young women were constantly anxious about their Circle's place in society. By the 1820s, the opportunities that the Revolution brought women had been closed. Prescriptive literature now touted a cult of True Womanhood told women that they were to be selfless, pious, and submissive. These ideas influenced the Gleaners and by the 1820s they no longer met for their literary pursuits, but for charitable purposes. No place in society remained for women in a self-improvement society. Instead, women had to work to improve others, demonstrating the limited opportunities for women in the antebellum period.