Early National Women’s Education and the Public Sphere

deadline for submissions: 
August 30, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
Dana McClain, Lehigh University
contact email: 

Seeking papers for a panel at the Society for Early Americanists 10th Biennial Conference March 2-4 in Tulsa, OK. 

At the Young Ladies’ Academy in Philadelphia in 1787, Benjamin Rush offered his “Thoughts upon Female Education,” in which he claimed that the education of women was a public issue for the new nation.  Rush justified female education to the male visitors by asserting that the “peculiar” circumstances in the United States require women to assume significant national responsibility.  Vesting women’s education with public significance, however, meant marginalizing women from the discussion.  The young ladies of the Academy had little say in their own education; Rush expected them to comply with and validate his program.  Rush thus contributed to an ideology that pervaded the early national period: since women’s education has public implications, women must be excluded from the public sphere.  In other words, the public sphere relied on educated women, as well as women’s restriction from the public.   

This panel invites papers that discuss how women contended with the paradoxical formulation of female education and the public in the early national period.  Some questions to consider:

 -What arguments about female education did women construct, and how do they compare with those developed by men?

 -How did women use education to enter the public sphere, fashion alternative publics, reimagine the private, and cross the boundaries between these spaces?

 -What role did literature play in reinforcing and/or challenging the dominant ideology about the relationship between female education and the public?

 -How did women take advantage of, and even create, new opportunities for education while avoiding imputations of being too learned or public?         

Please send the following information:

  1. Your name and a title for your presentation followed by a 100-200 word abstract 
  2. A brief bio (about 50-100 words), noting your background, institutional affiliation (or note that you are an independent scholar) and scholarly interests, and major projects. 
  3. Note if you are submitting a proposal to another session organizer or to the conference in general. This will allow session organizers to communicate with each other as we make decisions and prevent duplicate appearances on the program.

Visit the conference website for more information about the conference. https://sea2017.wordpress.com/