Republican Motherhood

Republican Motherhood2018-11-30T22:19:20+00:00

Republican Motherhood for APUSH

About the Author: Johnny Roy has been an Advanced Placement US History teacher for the past 8 years at Cuyahoga Heights High School just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. He has been actively involved with the AP Reading as a grader for the past 3 years having scored the DBQ, LEQ, and SAQ sections of the exam.

Republican Motherhood

Republican Motherhood was a concept derived from the notion that women should serve as educators of young men in order to teach them to become productive American citizens and embrace the Enlightenment ideas that fueled the concept of Republicanism following the end of the American Revolution.

Throughout the mid to late 1700s, women were expected to be subjective to the males (fathers/husbands/bosses, if they worked) that traditionally dominated their lives. The well-established patriarchy in colonial America would also not allow women to widely participate in the political or economic arenas, again, limiting them to the domestic sphere. However, even socially, women lacked equality in areas such as education, marriage, and child rearing.

In the late 18thcentury, socially, women lacked equality in areas such as education, marriage, and child rearing.

The 2ndGreat Awakening served as an underlying force of Republican Motherhood as Christian values were increasingly passed down to children.

As the 1800’s began, the 2ndGreat Awakening served as an underlying force of Republican Motherhood as Christian values were increasingly passed down to children. Due to the influence of Republican Motherhood, women shaped future generations and created the very people that would help to tear down societal barriers throughout the late 19thand early 20thcenturies.

Changing Role of Women

The traditional role of women in the mid to late 1700’s had been confined to the duties of the home. The majority of women were expected to be domestic caretakers, child bearers, and obedient servants to their husbands or fathers. Few, if any laws, existed that would protect the rights of women or promote their causes. Having been forced into this sphere of domesticity women craved an opportunity to do more.

Few, if any laws, existed that would protect the rights of women or promote their causes.

As industrialization and mechanization took hold in the new country women moved from rural areas to urban areas. Drawn by the promise of wages in factories like the Lowell Mills of the Northeast, women began to see that there was more for them to contribute to society. Though, frequently that same society was not quite yet ready to embrace a strong minded and economically independent woman.

The American Revolution solidified the Enlightenment ideals of Republicanism and free will, yet those things were still widely misunderstood.

The American Revolution solidified the Enlightenment ideals of Republicanism and free will, yet those things were still widely misunderstood. Even though some women sought out their own individual paths through economic independence, society called for someone to teach the upcoming generations of Americans what it would take to preserve these ideals. This would become known as Republican Motherhood and that duty fell to women because men viewed themselves too busy, as they were engaged in the world of politics and economics.

Society called for someone to teach the upcoming generations of Americans what it would take to preserve these ideals.

Women evolved into becoming the moral guardians of the country. This resulted in the creation of separate “spheres of influence” that would come to dominate the social structure of American society. The white men dominated the spheres of economics and politics by restricting access to minorities and women, while women were forced into the sphere of domesticity. That particular sphere would later evolve into what was known as the “Cult of Domesticity” and would shape women’s roles throughout the 1800’s.

Republican Mothers Raise Children

Like many other things in the country in the early 1800’s, the concept of how best to raise children was not something that people agreed upon. The differing needs of the family became evident as people moved away from rural areas and the practice of subsistence farming and began to embrace the industrialized urban areas.

The life of the yeoman farmer relied on a familial workforce, so larger families were necessary. However, families in urban areas struggled to support such large families so the country saw a decline in the birthrate in the early to mid-19thcentury.

The women of urban centers guided the rise of a generation of free and independent thinkers who embraced progressive ideas about education, government, and social equality. Rural areas clung to the patriarchal roots in their social structure and raised children accordingly.

This split between rural and urban child rearing is where you saw the greatest divide in the concepts of Republican Motherhood. The women of urban centers guided the rise of a generation of free and independent thinkers who embraced progressive ideas about education, government, and social equality. Rural areas clung to the patriarchal roots in their social structure and raised children accordingly. While northern cities and people were more likely to embrace progressive ideas, southern cities and families clung to traditional political, economic, and social roles which only further increased the sectional divides in the country.

Republican Motherhood Fosters Social Changes

Education

Due to women being responsible for the education of children throughout the nation, women themselves were given opportunities to further their own education. Because of this education, northern women became some of the strongest proponents of women’s issues. In the Northeast, tax supported schools began to spring up in the late 1700’s. These schools supported the education of boys as well as girls. More and more public supported schools were built in order to increase access to education. In wealthier areas, private “academies” were built for the more affluent families.

Due to women being responsible for the education of children throughout the nation, women themselves were given opportunities to further their own education.

The impact of more widespread access to education set the stage for many social reform movements of the early 19thcentury. As women, and the next several generations of Americans, embraced Enlightenment ideals of life and liberty, the call for progressive reforms only increased. Abolition, suffrage, and marriage rights were all causes that a newly educated population began to advocate for thanks to the freedom of thought provided by increasing access to higher level education.  A generation of female influence over education culminated in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention. At this convention, activists like Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton created the Declaration of Sentiments and established a reform platform that would guide the Progressive Movement for the next 75 years.

Enlightenment ideals of life and liberty, the call for progressive reforms only increased. Abolition, suffrage, and marriage rights were all causes that a newly educated population began to advocate for thanks to the freedom of thought provided by increasing access to higher level education.

Women’s Rights

The concepts and principles of the American Revolution were instilled in children all across the country and it was these ideas that created change throughout the 19thcentury. Women embraced Republican Motherhood and their roles of guiding change.

Educated women in the North became some of the most ardent abolitionists and advocates for greater freedoms for all leading up to and after the Civil War. In their pursuit of freedom for slaves in the South, the women of the North realized that they themselves were not entirely free.  Women worked on various aspects of social equality. Suffrage rights, marriage and divorce rights, child custody rights, and increased access to secondary education opportunities were all advocated for and achieved at some point. However, the Cult of Domesticity was not something that women were going to so easily escape from.

The majority of men did not want to relinquish the control that they had enjoyed throughout society. In the world of men, women were to be confined to the private sphere of the family and child rearing because it was not suitable for women to be in the public one of politics or economics. Yet, women were no longer intent on being bound by these principles.

Women began to choose their own marriage partners based on emotional needs and not simply survival needs. Nevertheless, men controlled most of these gains as well. These gains were seen as necessary to running a virtuous nation and it was women’s jobs to create and nurture a virtuous nation. It would not be till the passage of the 19thAmendment in 1920 that women truly began to throw off the oppressive controls instituted upon them by men and realize their own dream of republicanism as true participants in liberty.

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