Monday, January 5, 2009

Did Women Have Rights in Early America?

According to historian Carol Berkin, a woman was considered a "legal incompetent" along the same lines as "children, idiots, and criminals under English law." Berkin probably represents the majority view among most observers of America's past and citizens who are at least mildly attentive to the founding era.

It's certainly the view of the Women's International Center (WIC). Its website paints a fairly critical view of women in early American history, arguing that "a man virtually owned his wife and children as he did his material possessions."

***See WIC's section on Women's History by clicking here.

Is, however, such a cynical and frankly anti-Founder view justified? Certainly, women of African descent (particularly those held in slavery) faced a bleak existence. Few would dispute that. But what about the rest of America's women? Were they relegated to second-class status (or worse)? Was early America oppressive toward women?

***Read "How Were Women Treated in Early America?" at Suite101 American History.

In 48 Liberal Lies About American History, Larry Schweikart refutes the view that women (non-slave women, that is) had no rights in early America. According to Schweikart, a historian with the University of Dayton, the United States took steps to accord women (including married women) greater options and rights than were available in other societies. He cites power of attorney laws, prenuptial agreements, education, and even church opportunities as examples of early steps to improve conditions for women in early America. These steps were somewhat unique to the United States, elevating the status of women in America beyond that of many other societies.

This of course doesn't change the fact that men enjoyed greater voting rights, property rights, and social status than did women.

***Click here to watch author and commentator Cokie Roberts and UC professor Cynthia Gorney discuss the role of women in the American Revolution.

While women in colonial America certainly didn't enjoy the same degree of rights and opportunities that women do in the twenty-first century, progress was being made. And this is something that Schweikart says should be acknowledged today.

Says Schweikart: "American women, while not yet the political or economic equals of males, had far more protection and rights under Anglo-American law than did the vast majority of females around the world."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year...From John & Abigail Adams

Hello 2009!!!

New Year's Day is finally upon us, and there's no better way for this blog to recognize this holiday's "out with the old, in with the new" sentiment of rejuvenation and rebirth than to recall the words of John & Abigail Adams!

Take for example John's sentiments of optimism and determination from January 1, 1779. At the height of the Revolution, John Adams wrote the following to his wife Abigail:

I wish you an happy new Year, and many happy Years -- and all the Blessings of Life. Who knows but this Year may be more prosperous for our Country than any We have seen. For my own Part I have hopes that it will. Great Blessings are in store for it, and they may come this Year as well as another. You and I however must prepare our Minds to enjoy the Prosperity of others not our own. In Poverty and Symplicity, We shall be happy, whenever our Country is so.
Abigail demonstrated the same optimism and determination in 1797, as her husband prepared to take office as the second President of the infant United States (filling the shoes of the legendary George Washington), when she wrote:

"O Blindness to the future kindly given
That each may fill the circle marked by Heaven."

The new Year opens upon us with new Scenes of Life before us. What are to be the trials the troubles and vexations of it, are wisely withheld from our view.

The universal cause
Acts not by partial, but by General laws
Who sees and follows that great Scheme the best
Best knows the blessing, and will most be blest.

To him who sits Supreem let us commit the hour, the day the Year, and fearless view the whole. These need but thinking right, and meaning well, and may this ensure to you, the Souls calm Sun Shine, and the Heart felt say.
May you all have a happy and prosperous 2009!!!