Date of Award

5-2017

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Departmental Honors

Department

English

First Advisor

Keri Holt

Abstract

America’s victory in the War of Independence posed new challenges for the men who drafted the Constitution. Gender roles shifted dramatically during the war, creating a new attitude about women’s roles in the new republic. Before the Constitution was ratified, women like Abigail Adams advocated for women to have a more active role in the new nation. Radical literature regarding women’s roles also became a driving force in the movement. The Panther Narrative used the resurgence of America’s first genre, the captivity narrative, to combine the new republic’s obsession with personal freedom and radical ideas about gender spheres. The anonymous writer of the Panther Narrative criticized the subjugation of women in the new republic and asserted their desire and ability to function and contribute as full citizens of the new United States. The Panther Narrative’s commentary was unusually bold because it suggested that women could possess autonomy and ownership, a notion that was extremely radical in the eighteenth century. After the Constitution was written, it became apparent that the framers gave men progressive rights and prevented women from participating in the economic sphere by excluding them as citizens despite the push for social equality after the war. In response, Judith Sargent Murray advocated for equal rights and female education in her essay “On Equality of the Sexes” by reforming the radical ideas that Panther Narrative put forward just a few years before. Murray found a place for discussion about female autonomy within the sphere system, which began to gain traction after society was re-established by the Constitution. She recognized that the Panther Narrative’s ideas were too aggressive for society in the New Republic and worked to find new ways to improve the lives of American women. Her ideas provided a counter to the growing popularity of Republican Motherhood within early America.

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