By Catherine Kerrison
In 1711, the imperious Virginia patriarch William Byrd II spitefully refused his spouse Lucy's plea for a e-book; a century later, girl Jean Skipwith put an order that despatched the Virginia bookseller Joseph Swan scurrying to thrill. those vignettes bracket a century of swap in white southern women's lives. Claiming the Pen deals the 1st highbrow heritage of early southern ladies. It situates their studying and writing in the literary tradition of the broader Anglo-Atlantic international, to date understood to be a masculine province, whilst they inhabited the restricted, provincial social circles of the plantation South.
Catherine Kerrison uncovers a brand new realm of lady schooling during which conduct-of-life advice―both the dry pedantry of sermons and the risqué plots of novels―formed the center interpreting software. ladies, she unearths, discovered to imagine and write by way of analyzing prescriptive literature, no longer Greek and Latin classics, in impromptu domestic study rooms, instead of faculties and universities, and from family members and pals, instead of schoolmates and professors. Kerrison additionally finds that southern girls, of their willingness to "take up the pen" and so declare new rights, seized upon their racial superiority to offset their gender inferiority. In depriving slaves of schooling, southern girls claimed literacy as a privilege in their whiteness, and perpetuated and bolstered the repressive associations of slavery.
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Extra info for Claiming the Pen: Women and Intellectual Life in the Early American South
Their writings have let me see something of their humanity, from the nobler aspects of their intelligence and compassion to the darker side of their racism and elitism. As we recall Amy L. Wink’s reminder about the “potentially overwhelming external experiences” that shaped them, let us attempt to meet these women on their own ground. Imagine a world in which an omnipotent (and male) God has placed men above women, white over black, free over enslaved; and then let us ponder how a white southern woman could possibly consider taking up the power of the pen to transform it.
Writing from Massachusetts in March 1776, she penned her now famous petition to her husband to “Remember the Ladies” in the new code of laws to be written for the new nation, in which she advocated legal protections for married women (heretofore, nonentities before the law, under coverture). Never happier than when reading and writing about politics, Adams fully expected her daughter also to share that passion. 115 In their writings, these New England women proved the fallacy of the popular wisdom of female intellectual incapacities by achieving that which was allegedly impossible for females.
Unlike Anglican preachers, who were expected to have a university education and ecclesiastical ordination, evangelical Christians required only the experience of conversion and grace. In the inward journey to cultivate their relationship with God, women discovered selfhood, distinguished for the ﬁrst time from the person whose function remained subordinated to the needs of her family. 136 She assumed the responsibility of her slaves’ religious instruction decades before the antebellum period in which historians have more commonly located this development.