Founding Mothers & Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society

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Alfred A. Knopf, 1996 - History - 496 pages
Focusing on the first half-century of English settlement - approximately 1620 to 1670 - Mary Beth Norton looks not only at what colonists actually did but also at the philosophical basis for what they thought they were doing. She weaves theory and reality into a tapestry that reveals colonial life as more varied than we have supposed. She draws our attention to all early dysfunctional family extending over several generations and colonies. The basic worldview of this early period, Norton demonstrates, envisaged family, society, and state as similar institutions. She shows us how, because of that familial analogy, women who wielded power in the household could also wield surprising authority outside the home. We see, for example, Mistress Margaret Brent given authority as attorney for Lord Baltimore, Maryland's Proprietor, and Mistress Anne Hutchinson, who sought and assumed religious authority, causing the greatest political crisis in Massachusetts Bay. Norton also describes the American beginnings of another way of thinking. She argues that an imbalanced sex ratio in the Chesapeake colonies made it impossible to establish "normal" familial structures, and thus equally impossible to employ the family model as unself-consciously as was done in New England. The Chesapeake, accordingly, became a practical laboratory for the working out of a "Lockean" political system that drew a line between family and state, between "public" and "private." In this scheme, women had no formal, recognized role beyond the family. It is this worldview that eventually came to characterize the Enlightenment and that still looms large in today's culture wars.

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FOUNDING MOTHERS AND FATHERS: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society

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A lucid and enlightening explication of the relationship between gender and power in early colonial America. Taking the period between 1620 and 1670 as the basis for this study, Norton (American ... Read full review


The Government of Familyes
The First Society
A Little Monarchy

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About the author (1996)

Mary Beth Norton, the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University, received her B.A. from the University of Michigan and her Ph.D. from Harvard University. She teaches courses in the history of exploration, early America, women's history, Atlantic world, and American Revolution. Her many books have won prizes from the Society of American Historians, Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, and English-Speaking Union. Her book, FOUNDING MOTHERS & FATHERS (1996), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In 2011 her book SEPARATED BY THEIR SEX: WOMEN IN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE IN THE COLONIAL ATLANTIC WORLD was published. She was Pitt Professor of American History at the University of Cambridge in 2005-2006. The Rockefeller Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, and Huntington Library, among others, have awarded her fellowships. Professor Norton has served on the National Council for the Humanities and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has appeared on Book TV, the History and Discovery Channels, PBS, and NBC as a commentator on Early American history.

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