AHA 2019 Presidential Address by Mary Beth Norton



my name is John McNeil I am president-elect of the American Historical Association and as president-elect it is my privilege to introduce professor Marybeth Norton of Cornell University as the organization's 120 first president [Applause] as a native son of the Midwest and the left-hander it is my delight to introduce Marybeth Norton a native daughter of the Midwest at a fellow South Park you will soon hear her presidential address entitled history on the diagonal you have at hand a pamphlet recounting several aspects of Mary Beth's life and career a text written by one of her former TAS and one of her former students professor Susana Shah Romney and professor Molly walk it is admirable in every way but one it says everything that one in my role might say but it says it better than I could leaving me in an awkward spot so I will be brief and offer what as introductions of distinguished historians go is the equivalent of a haiku the pamphlet explains some of Mary Beth's triumphs there were obstacles early in her career obstacles of a sort routinely faced by women in our profession then and it must be said too often still today please read it the pamphlet also outlines Mary Beth's contributions to early American history to women's history and her agenda-setting impacts on the profession in several books the full titles of which did not make it into the pamphlet so I'm going to read what I think are Mary Beth Norton's five greatest hits I'm not going to read them I'm gonna read the titles first the British Americans the loyalist exile in England 1774 1789 published in 1972 Marybeth told me the other night that she feels this one is sometimes a little bit overlooked and that's probably justifiable because of what followed Liberty's daughter's the revolutionary experience of American women 1750 to 1819 80 published in 1996 was founding mothers and fathers gendered power and the forming of American society and then in 2003 in The Devil's snare the Salem Witchcraft crisis of 1692 ever since she has been as she puts it bewitched by Salem then in 2011 separated by their sexes women in public and private in the colonial Atlantic world now Mary Beth has Mitton written much more than these five major books and she has another book under way on committees and their activities in the year 1774 but most important I would judge this is an idiosyncratic opinion not necessarily shared by wiser heads is the revolutionary impact of the textbook that she co-authored a people and a nation which several million people have read and probably several more million people have purchased the impact of that textbook is admirably summarized in the admirable pamphlet the pamphlets first sentence an admirable sentence includes the phrase force of nature in reference to Mary Beth and then goes on to say that that phrase does not do her justice and I agreed as an environmental historian I like to think I can recognize the force of nature when I see one and in the last year on iha Duty I have witnessed a certifiable force of nature in Mary Beth but at the same time paradoxically the antithesis of the great forces of nature you see while she has the energy of a category-5 hurricane Mary Beth's impact is not destructive but creative so she simultaneously embodies both thesis and antithesis she is the Living Hegelian dialectic it's probably very hazardous to one's health or conceivably the Midwestern version of a Hindu deity that incorporates its own oppositional force moreover unlike your average tsunami or volcano Mary Beth has reliably discriminating judgment in complex matters and a punctilious approach to English language usage sorting out the VATS and the witches in draft documents composed by her successor who shall go nameless so she is a force of culture as well I promised the equivalent of a haiku but will deliver a limerick a suggestion made to me by Mary Linderman recently elected as a a president for 2020 so Mary Beth please hold Mary Lindemann responsible for the following doggerel there once was a prof. from Cornell his textbook did handsomely sell she knew that's from witches and all about witches and history on the diagonal [Laughter] fellow historians please welcome a ninth generation descendant of a Salem woman convicted of witchcraft but happily not hanged and the thirteenth woman to serve as president of the AAA please welcome the force of nature and the force of culture that is Mary Beth Norton [Applause] what an amazing introduction I've never been introduced that way before in my life and I'd actually I thank you for warning about the Cornell connection because I'd like to begin today with a comment about the history department at Cornell University which has been my academic and intellectual home for the past forty seven years John said I was the thirteenth women woman to be President of the aah a while I am the fifth member of the Cornell Department to be president of the American Historical Association the first was indeed the a a chase very first president Andrew Dixon white who was also the founding president of Cornell he was followed as a president by George Lincoln Burr Goldwyn Smith Dexter Perkins and of course most famously Carl Becker whose presidential address every man his own historian has been referred to frequently ever since many stories about Carl Becker circulate on our campus most are thought apocryphal but I want to relate one in this venue because I think it deserves to be preserved in the oral history of the profession this story is not in the published version of this talk so it's only for the people who are here in this room and it is part of oral history you will not find it in the ahr I know this really happened because I heard it years ago from the other major participant in it Urie bronfenbrenner his name might be familiar to some here he was a sting Ghost specialist in child development who spent much of his career at Cornell and is credited with being the main force behind the great society's headstart program but the incident I'm about to recount occurred many years earlier while bronfenbrenner was a freshman at Cornell in the 1930s he involved in Becker's celebrated Western Civ course among his fellow students were two members of the fraternity he wished to join recognizing the intelligence of the young pledge to insisted that Yuri had to write their term papers for the course as well as his own he was a freshman he wanted to be in the fraternity so he did what he was told he carefully selected three widely varying topics Becker required that students come talk to him individually after he had read their papers so Yuri did that and after the conversation Yuri got up to leave Becker's office Becker stopped him let's discuss your other two papers mr. Bradford head of Becker's head and Becker proceeded to do just that talk to Yuri straightforwardly about the other papers without a mention that they had been submitted under other names when Yuri told me this story about 40 years after it happened he recalled that he was so mortified by the experience that he never thought of cheating on anything ever again what Becker did with returned 'ti brothers is unknown as is how Becker recognized that Yuri had written all three papers I have no idea but Becker was such a fine language stylist perhaps he noted some quirk in Yuri's English prose since Yuri's native language was Russian although I discovered from his Wikipedia entry Yuri arrived in the US when he was only six so I don't know how much Russian he works he had stealing his language but in any event Becker knew he'd written all three papers now one possibly apocryphal statement of Becker's is relevant to my address Becker it is said and was said recently in my hearing and the hearing of some other people in this room by Walter Lefevre commented frequently that historians should think otherwise in effect that's the same approach I'm arguing for today by taking my title from this address in effect in a strange way from a well-known poem by Emily Dickinson tell all the truth but tell it slant Dickinson began that vers success in circuit lies she concluded a few lines later thus truth must gradual must dazzle gradually or every man be blind in the Canon of feminist literature Dickinson's telling it slant has been interpreted as describing a tactic adopted by women to challenge male prerogative Lee subtly but effectively many female authors critics argue have approached masculine dominance from the side employing an indirect means of undermining men's Authority while at the same time employed in an obvious frontal clash such a technique should indeed could indeed promise success through superior de smething excessed it would be achieved gradually and dazzle rather than blind audiences with its revelations of truth but here I mean something different by the phrase telling its slant and by my title history on the diagonal rather than explicitly depicting a confrontation with male prerogative like Carl Becker I advocate asking historical questions otherwise from the slide from the side as it were or from the standpoint of the other I want to encourage historians to address central historical issues creatively by approaching them from unusual perspectives including the perspective of groups that traditionally have not dominated the telling of history in short from the position of women and so-called minorities who are of course not always that as an early American estai will draw primarily on examples from the scholarly literature that focus on America before the Civil War but my contention is that the same prescriptions can apply in all historical fields further I want to make clear that by my singling out certain works as exemplifying the approaches I recommend I do not mean to imply that they constitute the sole possible examples of excellent historical writing rather they are just that exemplar that represent many other works as well in a recent column in perspectives on history I reflected on my response to a 1983 survey distributed by the committee on women historians now the Committee on gender equity asking for women historians thought about the historical professions attitude toward female historians women's history and those who studied it I will not here repeat the contents of the column or the entire document but we'll you can read that for yourselves but will rather focus on one aspect of it my sense then which persists to this day that many historians mostly men but including some women and here I quote from myself in 1983 and I might add that Allison Miller who found this quote is sitting over here she's the editor of perspectives quote have not yet fully assimilated women's history scholarship or recognized its significance such scholars I continued in the mid-1980s isolate the insights of women's history placing them in a separate category that does not affect the core of their work indeed I admitted I and other early practitioners of an enthusiast for women's history had been naive to assume that the insights of the field would be fully integrated into history and that women's history as such what accordingly self-destruct that's my term from seven from 1983 the foundation of the approach I advocate lies in always asking historical questions differentiated into analytical categories rather than supposing that everyone in the set of people one is studying has similar interests or concerns a failing of early family history for example lay in the unexamined assumption that all members of those families shared the concerns and perspectives of the husband or father which are commonly the most readily accessible other scholars assume offenses are often scholars assume that their subjects are either straight or have gender identities that can be defined by a male-female binary too seldom do historians of past politics recognize that their primary subjects are explicitly male with priorities that derive from their masculine identity and social roles historians who have focused on slavery servitude or class have been more aware of the need to address those divisions but even in such studies gender has often been alighted or ignored and I'm gonna do something unusual I'm going to critique my own first book so in that failing I include my own early work my first book mentioned by John McNeil based on my dissertation and published as the British Americans embarassingly does not include an index entry for women I personally prepared that index and although the names of female loyalists exercised appear occasionally in the volume the category women was not in my head as I composed the dissertation or later the book therefore even though I quoted from correspondence revealing that women confronted special difficulties in exile and even though I had taken notes on the claims for compensation that female loyalists submitted to the British government after the war I did not single out women as a group in any way in my prose I have several times publicly told the story I will now repeat after I became interested in women's history about the same time that first book was published I began to research the experiences of women during the Revolution but in a very unsystematic way without much of a scholarly compass for guidance in large part that was because the few works on women in early America published before the 1970s had essentially ignored the American Revolution focusing instead on the 17th and 18th centuries prior to the war while sitting in my ithaca apartment one Sunday afternoon and wondering how to forge a path into the morass that the history of women in the revolution then seemed to me I suddenly remembered those female loyalist claimants I had recorded a total of v of about 1500 claims and in retrospect I blessed the fact that I made a specific note of each one of them as I thought about that set of get this 4×6 typewritten no card sitting in boxes in my apartment I thought that women had produced approximately one hundred of those claims I knew little about colonial women but I knew a great deal about loyalists and the claims and I thought perhaps the female loyalists could be my guides to their contemporaries so I went to those boxes of note cards and I pulled out every one every claim submitted by a woman I had ended up with a substantial pile of approximately 300 cards I remember I thought maybe in retrospect there were a hundred but there were 300 all those women I quickly realized could help me combat an assumption of previous historians about colonial women that in early America wives had been their husband's true partners in life and in business and that they had been more fully integrated into the economies of their communities than they were after the industrialization of the post-revolutionary decades applicants had to describe their property to the loyalist Claims Commission in order to request compensation for their losses often without access to deeds or other documents that had been left behind in America they had to rely on their memories in to some extent on networks of also exiled neighbors to convince the Commission that they had suffered the forfeiture of property they described the questions the records could answer were obvious could women give as full accounts of the properties as their husbands did how did they characterize their families possessions and if I asked whether their claims had the same rate of success as men's overall what would I find to answer those questions I recognized that I had to return to the public record office which was then located on Chancery Lane in central London it's of course since been moved moved out to queue and to review the Commission's records this time explicitly seeking women and rereading all those claims by women with such new questions in mind doing so the next summer turned up another hundred and sixty or so female claimants women who had contacted the Commission but who for one reason or another had never completed their claims and so whose records were not in the in the files that I had been looking at that I'd written my dissertation from so even the voluminous sources I had consulted for the dissertation have been incomplete in that they excluded many loyalists who had failed to finish applications for compensation and women appeared more likely than men to a fallen into that category often precisely because they knew few details about the families lost property the result of that investigation became my first published work of women's history an article that appeared in the Bicentennial issue of the women mary quarterly in July of 1976 it reported on 18th century American women's familiarity with household possessions and their lack of knowledge about land values or family businesses unless the women in question had been widowed before the war it detailed what they knew and what they did not concluding that their testimonies drew on their own personal knowledge not on any information their husbands would have shared with them had they truly worked in concert with each other it furthermore recounted their many struggles in exile struggles worse than those of their male counterparts doing that work taught me the importance of asking gender differentiated questions and convinced me of the revolutionary potential of women's history I eventually published the book that resulted from all my research on the topic of women in the revolution as John said in the introduction in 1980 under the title Liberty's daughters as often happens another historian Linda Kerber who I think is here she's here at the convention I suspect she's here hey there she is another former president of former presidents organization and also attending this was researching and writing her book on a similar topic at the same time women of the Republic appeared within six months of mine together our works launched a new field of study a development of which I remain very proud and I know Linda's proud of it too because we participated in a forum about this some years ago this story has a coda committed to gendered analyses after I finished Liberty's daughters I embarked on the research rope became founding mothers and fathers which is a study of social life in the seventeen in 18th century compass 17th century Colony is comparing New England and the Chesapeake so I had gendered questions firmly in mind when I began that work and I discovered as I explained in that book that in the 17th century elevated social standing was more important than gender in determining the public roles of high status women their social and economic prominence I argued help to explain the assumptions that dieded the actions ideas and impact of such early American women as mistress and hutchinson of Massachusetts Bay to cite only the most obvious example ironically my attention to gendered definitions alerted me to the significance of the absence of those definitions but that insight was possible only because gender differentiated inquiries had been at the forefront of my mind as I researched and drafted the book other scholars who begin with a focus on gender have explored diverse historical circumstances in which gender identity at birth has not been wholly dispositive for women or men those circumstances include times and places in which people seemingly born as one sex deliberately and for various reasons adopt the clothing of another in which babies have ambiguous genitalia very interesting book by my friend Lizzie Reese or in which race Trump's gender but just as in the 17th century high status did the same but even when gender does not supply an absolute and unchanging category into which historians can definitively place people awareness of gender divisions is nevertheless key in understanding the relative absence or the obscuring of those divisions in different situations although I ignore gender analysis in my dissertation and first book I did not do the same with race for I noted briefly in both works that the Claims Commission treated formerly enslaved black loyalists dismissively and I soon wrote an article about their fate in England and it eventually Sierra Leone scholars of race in American history have always been less naive than were the first modern scholars of women's history like myself for they never expected there field to self-destruct nor have they ever anticipated that their subject would be fully integrated into the story of America writ large the story they told and have continued to tell shines an important spotlight on the unique experience of Africans in America yet uniqueness is not the whole story as many subjects would benefit from the comparative treatment of whites and blacks I discussed the need for such comparisons at length in the published version of this address in the forthcoming February issue of the ahr but I'm omitting it here for reasons of time I want to detail a number of different strategies for approaching history on the diagonal with examples of each in no particular order what follows should not be seen as a list that excludes other possibilities with the same characteristics that is creative and unusual approaches to asking historical questions it's intended merely to be a suggestive and thought-provoking and as I said I'm focusing on American history and explicitly except for the very first example I'm about to give on civil war in pre-civil war America first adding the race the lens of race or gender to an existing historiography that has ignored either or both such a tactic can bring together interpretations previously seen as conflicting or contradictory a prime example is Christian Hogan Christian Hogan sance fighting for American manhood Hogan 'sons persuasive analysis of the gendered language of masculinity employed by those who promoted the spanish-american war in 1898 provides a comprehensive framework for understanding the seemingly disparate concerns of different jingoistic thinkers she includes those who argued for the imperialistic annexation of new territories those who stress the importance of avenging the hist the sinking of the battleship mean those who express sympathy for Cubans or others who simply sought partisan advantage exposing the Jeepers deeply gender cultural foundations of American foreign policy in the late 19th century does more than simply add another element to a variety of existing interpretations it offers a coherent means of creating further avenues for research and combines many things that I know flummoxed me when I was in graduate school I couldn't understand how you made how you could choose among all those different things on Hogan's since book shows us we don't have to choose among they all they all amount to the same thing second developing new analytical categories that superseded and replace older ones thus unifying what had been disparate areas of scholarship Corrine feels the study for equal the struggle story for equal adulthood examines suffrage fights before the Civil War through a filter apply in plots re supplied by concepts of age with such an analytical tool field is able to fuse previously distinct discussions of voting rights for men and women blacks and whites whereas earlier historians had confined themselves to studying the suffrage claims of one or at most two groups of the four that is black and white men and women fields use of suffrage opponents reckoning liking all such claimants to quote children demonstrated the common themes that link them all third taking a body of evidence collected in the past for one purpose and commonly used to investigate that same purpose but instead employing it creatively for another in this category I place Jim Sid Barry's prowess a plowshares into swords and I met him for the first time this morning so I told him he would be praised in this book I don't know if he's here and I guess he states in the introduction Sid where he studies the the testimony and related records of participants in Gabriel's conspiracy in 1880 no one it's quote to open a window into the perceptions of people of African descent in Richmond at the turn of the 19th century the details of the conspiracy itself constitute only part of his story the major thrust of the book analyzes the society that gave birth to it as someone who has personally worked in two other remarkably large sets of evidence in a less creative way certainly have not been as creative as he was I challenge early American historians to use the records of the Salem witch trials available in an accurate and comprehensive edition since 2009 or the unpublished voluminous records of the British loyalist Claims Commission in the 1780s to study what underlines each respectively life in Massachusetts villages in the final decades of the seventeenth century or life in the American colonies prior to and during the American Revolution I might out of verbal a couple of verbal footnotes here one is that if any of you are familiar with the concrete the addition from 2009 of the Salem Witchcraft records with it done by an international team headed by Bernard Rosenthal among the members of that international team were finished linguists this may seem weird to a lot of historians but it's precisely because the Finns have a whole group of linguists who are interested in 17th century English in America and it is the largest body of evidence there is that is created that is collected and consistent and so forth so among the associate editors of this collection of Salem Witchcraft papers are a bunch of Finnish linguists just just a note and in addition I will say that to my knowledge there's only one article that's ever been written about the using the Loyalists claims records that it's not about these people as loyalists that is about their lives in America and I have a footnote you'll see it in the HR article there's a footnote to that ok 4th reversing a standard question in effect turning scholarship upside down here I cite both Nell painters history of white people and now of course receives an award for scholarly distinction last night and Bill Foster's captors narrative the contents of these works and how they turn historians usual categories of analysis back on themselves are obvious from their tie painter examines the history of whiteness rather than look far more common blackness and instead of the familiar trope of the co neol captivity narrative foster looks at accounts of the French nuns who ended up as the captors of New England men taken in the Indian Wars of the 17th and 18th centuries both books accordingly open new and important areas of inquiry v and this is a very recent book tackling major events by adopting the perspective of the other my prime example here is Lisa Brooks our beloved kin which in my opinion exploits explodes the standard narrative of King Philip's War in late 17th century New England Brooks a native scholar retells what historians have tended to regard as a well-known tale for her the often nameless warrior raiders of other accounts become individually identified protectors that's her word of family and wider kin meanwhile Native Christian converts nominal allies of English settlers become men and women caught in almost unimaginably difficult dilemmas caused by conflicting loyalties and responsibilities her reworking of Mary rowlandson famous captivity narrative from a native standpoint is in a word brilliant throughout the book Brooks is alert to gender and racial categories as they were understood and expressed at the time which is not necessarily the way historians today have perceived and described them she modestly does not claim to have driven a definitive revision of the standard account of the war I would not be so modest on her behalf but rather to a proposed alternative narratives that can lead to a new understanding of the conflict and of all the native groups and meshed in it and six this is the end of my list because it comes to something I'm going to contribute adopting an unusual line of inquiry that suggests new ways of thinking about historical source material and this is how I want to contribute my discussion of studying history on the diagonal the analytical approach I employ focuses on the phenomenon that has been called rhetorical femininity that phrase claimed by a scholar of English literature refers to publications that appear under a woman's name but which might or might not have been written by a woman on a very few occasions in eighteenth-century America the authors of such essays can be identified most famous of course are the young Benjamin Franklin's silence do-good papers Franklin assumed the persona of a rural clergyman's elderly widow he was 16 years old when he did this he assumed the persona of a regular Germans elderly widow in order to satirize Cotton Mather and among other aims to question the value of a Harvard education to which he as the fifteenth child of a candle maker could not aspire anyone who doesn't like Harvard should read that safe occasionally the author of such pieces is known to be female but in most instances the gender of the author must be survived surmised from content and tone or that question must be alighted my discussion will refer to all such authors as she because that was how they presented themselves unless a masculine identity is clearly indicated the context is always important many of the obviously male authors in 18th century periodicals employed women's voices primarily for humorous purposes by the 1760s and 1770s my concern here the conventions of rhetorical femininity had long been established in the colonial press conventions that I considered in my 2011 book separated by their sex authors adopting female names could write critiques of women's foibles could criticize male behavior on occasion and could consult and could could discuss poor ship and marriage but such nominal women could consider only that limited range of topics without arousing the ire of male readers who tended to respond with published invective if porter purportedly female writers strayed outside those well-known boundaries before this mid 1760s permissible topics written by female authors or nominally female authors definitely did not include politics and so essays in the traditional style in the late 1760s and early 1770s if you look at colonial newspapers appear assigned by such rhetorically feminine names as Belinda Julia or Mary wise would they discuss women's behavior and one I particularly like a purported 21 year old New Yorker amour love saw a husband it's kind of 18th century tinder I don't know she elicited replies from Jae vanity Jack ramble and someone who assigned only with initials yet during those politically charged years nominal women also began to address political subjects for example in early 1766 Tabitha straw bonnet satirized women who pledged to forgo proper mourning garb in order to protest the 1765 Stamp Act she wrote with studied exaggeration quote this single step if well followed will have a greater effect on the prosperity of this country than in 100 Prussian regiments of death with manly remonstrances in one hand and flaming swords in the other and maybe a little bit of overkill but in any event six years later in 1772 a Luthor Rena who was described as a young lady living in the country submitted to the Boston Gazette a letter she addressed to Queen Charlotte wife of George the third a Luthor ena asked the Queen to a intervene on behalf of the oppressed Americans she described the colonists affection and esteem for the Queen and for the House of Hanover yet a Luthor ena warned the Queen that she and the King were surrounded by enemies presenting themselves as friends she asserted that quote the glory of Britain depends on America and she predicted a quote dismal fate for Britain should its leaders continue on their present course please she begged Charlotte used quote your kindly sweet influence to save us Americans because we cannot fall alone Britain must be included in our ruin now a response to a Lutheran assumption came not from a man but from other nominal women a purported group writing as quote the ladies of New England over the tea table assembled in quote dissented in print from quote the late indecent unjust and dishonor Airy address of a certain forward and loquacious young lady they questioned a Luther eNOS identity charging that her letter bore a strong resemblance to essays fathered by Samuel Adams having accused her of actually Bennet being a prominent man they never went on then ever the less went on to treat her as a woman they declared that she had violated quote that delicacy and decorum that ladies should display and that her negative characterization of the Kings advisers were quote groundless false and seditious moreover her insistence that Britain was dependent on America was nonsensical and Britain certainly did not face ruin they described her ravings as quote the causeless ravings of an enthusiast in petticoats and they described her letter to Queen Charlotte as quote totally inconsistent with the female character they insisted that the Queen or any wife's primary duty was to obey her husband not to attempt to influence him now perhaps the tea-table labor ladies were correct and Samuel Adams was a Lutheran his alter ego I don't although I don't really think so I think this really is a young lady in the country but in the end it doesn't matter this exchange of rhetorically feminine authors on a political subject was unique because it was initiated by a nominal woman and replied to by other nominal women it nevertheless conformed to the conventions of feminine discourse a Luther eNOS address was a directed to a woman Queen Charlotte its contents revolving around standard themes such as a wife's influence on her husband and fears the colonists often expressed about George the Third's evil and evil advisors likewise the response to adhere to the norms of femininity in its charge that a Lutheran a– had not shown the delicacy and decorum expected from women the tea-table ladies insisted then addressing the Queen as she did a Luther Rena was in effect promoting marital discord in the royal family that Eleuthera Enix critics said they work over the tea table assembled was entirely appropriate in light of anglo-american women's long association with sociable tea drinking in colonial culture dating back to the first decades of the 18th century ladies were figured as tea drinkers and much evidence suggests that the trope had both symbolic and real resonance American women especially the well-to-do did socialize over tea and so when groups of colonial women acted collectively in these years tea was often the chief subject of their concern Parliament's adoption of the Tea Act in 1773 led to boycotts throughout the colonies to impose to a pole in sari opposed imports from the East India Company boycotts in which patriotic women enthusiastically participated and which elicited extensive coverage in newspapers anti tea poetry composed in a rhetorically feminine voice constituted an important component of the publicity supporting the tea boycott for example a poem titled a lady's adieu to her tea table appeared in two versions in different newspapers one rhymed and one not and I actually think this is kind of an 18th century version of what we call 20th century fanfiction I think some women didn't like the on rhymed version and so then a rhymed version appears in other papers so the unrhymed version goes like this I'll just read you the first couple of lines farewell of a keyboard with its bawdy equipage of cups and saucers cream bucket sugar tongs but then the rhymed version that appeared later says farewell the keyboard with your gaudy attire ye crops and saucers which I did admire now reports and commentaries about tea frequently instigated statements by nominal women for example a woman complained in the Massachusetts Spy about opinion pieces intended to convince women that drinking tea was bad for their health if tea has long been known as quote painful and poisonous she wrote quote why were not these arguments used against the use of it in former times before it was thought a political evil give us political reasons not to drink tea she requested rather than telling us what she says is scarecrow stories about it in quote and so some women did in fact respond with actual political reasons against against drinking tea some of which I in fact mentioned in the article in the in the aah are more but in addition there were also parodies of women's commitment to boycott tea because when women public participated in the boycott they opened themselves to the possibility of ridicule by those who saw women's collective political actions as visible rather than patriotic for example one I particularly like one wit produced so-called resolves from the quote fair daughters of liberty of Hartford Connecticut the daughters it was said had found t guilty of quote high treason so they pledged to hang the teakettle draw the tea and quarter the toast that was good now the Lampoon's of women's patriotic activities by rhetorically feminine voices increased in number during these years and so did the fences of such activities occasionally such defenses veered into criticisms of men more subtle and clever than men's parodies of women in one case the author has been identified Hannah Griffiths of Philadelphia Quaker a poem she published titled the female patriots addressed to the daughters of Liberty in America systematically addressed the taxes women Britain had levied on Americans under the Townsend duties touching briefly on each item tax to raise revenue for the Empire she analogized colonial men to babies who quote kept by a sugar plum quietly down soup I so pine ly asleep and deprived of their sight are stripped of their freedom and robbed of their right well women who had no vote nevertheless acted in defense of America and quote pointed out their duty to men griffiths bold verse stood out in patriot writings for its reduce of rhetorically feminine terminology to critique men by referring to them as babies but the most extensive and most successful deployment of such tropes came not from a patriot but from one of their opponents an author employing employing the pseudonym Mary VV on a 14 page pamphlet in verse titled a dialogue between a southern delegate and his spouse on his return from the grand Continental Congress to my knowledge there's only one other person who's ever written about this Ben Ervin and he wrote about it quite differently for the way I'm going to talk about it the clarification of Mary's initials Vivi was vice versa indicating her descent from the praise heaped on the Congress after its adjournment in late October 1774 the New York printer James Rivington published a dialogue less than two months later in Rivington who was a very clever guy might actually have been the author of it but we just don't know that the anonymous author intended the wife to be the dominant voice in the pamphlet was evidence in the choice of a rhetorically feminine soon in him in the long poem the returned delegate husband admits that he did not agree with some of the steps that Congress took implying the delegates were often drunk during their debates quote men when drunk are all heroes all prudent all gallant stark fools become sages rank cowards grow valiant in quote she turns that assessment back on to him quote I protest this same Congress of very fine school a man comes back a chatham who went there a fool that elicits the traditional riposte of a man to a woman pretty deer dabble not in our politics she greets that statement with a hoarse laugh that's the phrase in the poem but he persists mind I household Affairs teach thy children to read and never dear with politics trouble thy head the wife then challenges his assertion that women should have nothing to do with politics proceeding to argue that delegates wives would have managed matters at the Congress much better than the delegates did she asks pointedly quote because men are male are they all politicians why then I assume there Divine's and physicians wives she AFER's would not have tried to frighten England as the men did the husband replies that he and the other congressmen did their best but the wife will literally have none of it from then until the end of the pamphlet which is five pages later he has only three scattered lines she completely takes over the so-called dialogue becomes a monologue a cleverly rhymed set of critiques of congressional actions usually couched in expressions of concerns for her husband the wife insists that she always has his interest in mind quote could see you in prison or hanged without pain then pray have I not reason enough to complain she holds out the specter of bloody warfare ahead reminding her spouse that the Congress was supposed to petition Parliament about Americans grievances but instead committed little short of high treason indeed she said you resolved you enacted like a sovereign power the cost of disobeying congressional decrees was quote our fortunes and fames but at least not gibbets and flames in quote Congress has recently enacted import boycotts and the threat to halt exports in the future she contends will ruin many quote you've contrived to starve all the poor people to death he and the other we others rejected wise plans and instead of ascending Parliament respectful petitions they drafted a series of dresses addresses filled with quote insult rebellion and treason forget Britain for a moment she comments what about the rank tyranny in America itself because the courts of inspection that have been established by the Khan of the become that's right what about the rank tyranny in America itself because of the courts of inspection that have been established by the Continental Continental Association which is one of the themes of my new book quote could the Inquisition Venice Rome or Japan have devised so horrid so wicked a plan of course Japan is therefore only rhyme purposes but she concludes with the thought that if spirits infernal infernal bent on revenge have been in charge of the Congress they could not have chosen a more destructive path than they did in the delegates so I want to read the whole last few lines let fools pedants and husbands continue to hate the advice of us women and call it all preach whilst you are in danger by your good leave my dear both by night and by day I will ring in your ear make your peace fear the king the Parliament fear all my country remember that a woman unknown cried aloud like Cassandra in oracular tone repent or you are forever forever undone now the rhetorically feminine approach of the dialogue coupled with its poetic format made it one of the more accessible clever and possibly more persuasive pamphlets that attack the Continental Congress the group of New York area clergymen who also published with James Remington developed far more learned and comprehensive attacks on the Congress but Mary VV hit all the major points and within a familial context that any reader could understand she warned that the Congress had not sought conciliation with Britain as had been anticipated but had instead made matters much worse the Continental Association with its non importation and planned non exportation agreements would destroy the American economy and starve the colonists poor people in particular the Committees of observation and inspection established under the Association were as bad as if not worse than the Inquisition bloodshed and ruin she predicted lay in America's future other loyalists conveyed the same warning most notably the famous Daniel Lennard writing as massachusett Ensis in response to John Adams in Boston at about the same time as Mary Vivi penned her words yet political commentary from a woman must have carried added meaning and impact because of its relative novelty notably Mary Vivi did not back down when confronted by her husband about her venture into politics in fact she left in his face she displayed no wifely submission and she not only defended women's wisdom asserting that wives would have been more successful at the Congress than their husbands but attached attacked men's pretense of being especially qualified to consider political subjects her iconoclasm was particularly unusual in its overt challenge to men's political dominance she did not simply question the wisdom of what the congressman had done even her husband had done that remember he said some of them were drunk rather she crazed the issue of whether masculinity automatically endowed men with an exclusive right to public preeminence a dialogue was a parody but with an underlying message of disputing men's Authority more perhaps than the author ever intended the radical potential of a rhetorically feminine voice in the context of the mid 1770s became even clearer in a parody meeting of the daughters of Liberty that appeared in a Boston newspaper in May 1774 six signatories representing their place of residence as Kennebec Maine declared that they had been quote fired with a love of independence by the actions of Boston's Patriots they insisted that woman is quote a free and independent being who could resist all efforts to subordinate her to quote the tyranny of husbands in quote no one could be compelled to obey laws to which they had not consented in person or by a representative as was well known they continued the ladies of Kennebec had not been consulted about t and so they formally protested against quote all those who have been in any manner assisting abetting or conniving at the destruction and detention of that delicious herb they regarded that destruction as quote not only a scandalous invasion of our t-table privileges but a daring attempt to reduce the daughters of freedom under their arbitrary and capricious power the satirical complaint against men depriving women of their favorite beverage was very familiar but the language about declaring Windham independence from their husband's Authority was not that the rhetorically feminine Paradis chose to employ it was striking and preceded Abigail Adams as much quoted similar plea to her husband John to remember the ladies to free them from their husband's tyranny by about two years I just wonder if she read that in May of 1774 in the in the Boston newspaper of course her assertion was more serious than theirs but the very fact they use the language and a parody indicated that political ideas could spill over into familial relations even if that language was meant to be taken as a joke this rhetorically feminine publication like the dialogue of a southern delegate accordingly provides compelling evidence about commonly overlooked gendered aspects of the American Revolution women could draw on revolutionaries own language of resistance to Britain to begin to claim rights for themselves even though that movement would not culminate formally until 1848 when the Seneca Falls declaration mimicked the Declaration of Independence moreover that the authors of both the pamphlet and the Lampoon of the Kennebec ladies were almost certainly male indicated that men too had started to grasp the possible implications of revolutionary ideology for uses never considered by its initial promulgate errs in the same manner enslaved and formerly enslaved african-americans could and did employ the revolutionaries language expressing fears of enslavement at the hands of Britons and challenges to the bondage they endured that language did not initiate their claims to freedom but it initiated enabled their articulation in terms that they're white compatriots could comprehend and occasionally affirm therefore this example of approaching history on the diagonal contributes a new and telling piece of evidence to the controversy about the revolutions impact on American women that I originally considered in Liberty's daughters almost four decades ago even in Lampoon's knew an underscore this revolutionary ideology turned out to have what can only be termed revolutionary penumbra's actions and ideas could not be controlled by the white male leaders who initially developed and pursued them women actual and rhetorical grasped the significance of the revolutionaries concepts and applied them to novel ends success may lay many years in the future but it was a beginning and I end with that [Applause]

One comment

  1. The interests of men and women in history have been intertwined. The fallacy of the study of history since the 1970s, and the assertion about men and women in the present, has been that our interests were/are not. This distorted, presentistic nonsense in the study of history has got to go.

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