Synopses & Reviews
With this book, Nancy Isenberg illuminates the origins of the women's rights movement. Rather than herald the singular achievements of the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, she examines the confluence of events and ideasbefore and after 1848that, in her view, marked the real birth of feminism. Drawing on a wide range of sources, she demonstrates that women's rights activists of the antebellum era crafted a coherent feminist critique of church, state, and family. In addition, Isenberg shows, they developed a rich theoretical tradition that influenced not only subsequent strains of feminist thought but also ideas about the nature of citizenship and rights more generally.
By focusing on rights discourse and political theory, Isenberg moves beyond a narrow focus on suffrage. Democracy was in the process of being redefined in antebellum America by controversies over such volatile topics as fugitive slave laws, temperance, Sabbath laws, capital punishment, prostitution, the Mexican War, married women's property rights, and labor reformall of which raised significant legal and constitutional questions. These pressing concerns, debated in women's rights conventions and the popular press, were inseparable from the gendered meaning of nineteenth-century citizenship.
"In this pathbreaking book, Isenberg contends that historians of feminism in the U.S. have drawn too sharp a distinction between the public, political (male) sphere and the private, domestic (female) sphere, thereby focusing too narrowly on feminists' quest for suffrage. Isenberg's work explodes that dichotomy by widening her scope to include the array of legal and cultural rights women pursued in the realms of marriage, sex, religion, property, and manifest destiny, where political and domestic spheres remained entangled. Isenberg argues 'unabashedly' and convincingly that feminist activists, especially through the 15 Women's Rights Conventions held between 1848 and 1860, elaborated a coherent, broad-ranging, and constructive critique of American culture, law, and politics. With the coinage of 'co-equality,' they redefined citizenship: women need not give up distinctiveness in order to participate fully in American democracy. One gripe: despite the inclusiveness of her title, she ignores women's political activity in the South and the West." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
The substantive chapters of the book contain consistent interest and insight and pockets of brilliant research and analysis.
Law and History Review
[A]dmirably executes its stated mission to recapture the variety and theoretical sophistication of U.S. feminism at its origins.
[S]heds entirely new light on this important chapter in women's political history in the United States.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History
[A] pathbreaking book.
Virginia Quarterly Review
Illuminates the origins of American feminism by showing how antebellum feminists moved beyond suffrage to influence thinking about the nature of citizenship and rights more generally.
Isenberg has a finely honed sense of the ironies that emerged within the antebellum polity, which she illustrates.
American Quarterly The substantive chapters of the book contain consistent interest and insight and pockets of brilliant research and analysis.
Law and History Review [A]dmirably executes its stated mission to recapture the variety and theoretical sophistication of U.S. feminism at its origins.
American Literature [S]heds entirely new light on this important chapter in women•s political history in the United States.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History [A] pathbreaking book.
Virginia Quarterly Review
About the Author
Nancy Isenberg is the Mary Frances Barnard Chair in History at the University of Tulsa.
Table of Contents
1. Firstborn Feminism
2. Citizenship Understood (and Misunderstood)
3. Visual Politics
4. Conscience, Custom, and Church Politics
5. The Political Fall of Woman
6. The Bonds of Matrimony
7. The Sovereign Body of the Citizen