Questions for Pondering -- About the Origins of Liberty Rhetoric
- "The Congress," a 1775 cover illustration for Pennsylvania Magazine (Library of Congress)
- 1) What does it mean for Liberty to be represented as a female? Is this common in or unique to the American experience?
2) What symbols appear in this image, and what are the meanings of each?
3) Is this illustration realistic or allegorical?
4) Was this an illustration with a specific audience? Would that audience be mostly male, mostly female, or mixed? What other characteristics would its audience share? How would the audience receive these images?
- Woodcut from "A New Touch on the Times," 1779 (New York Historical Society)
- 1) What can this image tell us about how women's roles were affected by the Revolutionary War?
2) How do you think women would feel when they saw this image?
3) This image was used numerous times for many purposes. How might the meaning of this image change over time?
4) Compare this image with the comments that Abigail Adams made in the letter to her husband John in 1776. In what ways are the image and the letter asserting Liberty Rhetoric?
- "The Edenton Ladies' Tea Party," a British cartoon lampooning women's revolutionary commitment (Library of Congress)
- 1) This is a parody--lampooning or making fun--of women's excitement over the Liberty Rhetoric of the Revolutionary War. Remember that this was printed in England to make the colonials in America look foolish. Point out the ways in which this cartoon makes fun of the colonials in general, and women in particular.
2) How does this image point out the "unnaturalness" of women's interests in politics? What will be, according to the cartoon, the consequences of women's political participation? Pay attention to the baby on the floor at the bottom center of the image.
3) The women in this image are drafting a pledge to refuse to drink tea and other "taxables." Why would this be an especially significant thing for women to do? What sort of a document do you think the women in this image would be writing? Write a draft of that document.
4) Those who read the caption of this drawing at the time might have thought first that a "Ladies' Tea Party" would be a fashionable party with finger food. But they also might have associated it with "The Boston Tea Party," when a group of Boston men dumped tea into the harbor in protest against British taxation policies. Compare the image of that raid with the image put forward in this depiction of a "Tea Party." Are there elements of "riotousness" in this image of a tea party that would remind viewers of the Boston tea party?
- 1) What realities of married life in Colonial New England might have led Grace Galloway to see her married life in such bleak terms?
2) Notice Galloway's use of the term "yoke" to describe a husbands control over his wife. What imagery does this word convey? In what other ways would the word "yoke" be used, and with what resulting meaning here?
3) What were the freedoms that unmarried women enjoyed? Why and how did they lose these freedoms when they married?
4) Why, if they lost certain freedoms, did women nonetheless choose to marry?
- 1) What is Adams' argument for women's representation in the government that will follow the Revolutionary War?
2) What is Adams saying about the difference between "civilized" and "uncivilized" men in the treatment of their wives? Why would she make this particular argument?
3) How is Adams' statement that women will "foment a Rebelion and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation" similar to the Declaration of Independence?
4) Looking ahead to the Lowell Mill Strikes, you will see that women's lack of representation can be a hindrance, but also can be used to argue that they are exempt from laws which they did not themselves approve. In what ways do you see this emerging in Adams' letter to her husband?
- 1) What is the significance of the word "sphere" which Wilkinson uses?
2) What were the nature of the "domestic concerns" that Wilkinson refers to? How did women use these "concerns" or small businesses?
3) How would Wilkinson define "liberty of thought"? Did this mean quietly thinking to oneself, or freedom of speech, according to her?
- Poem published in the 1797 Newark Centinel of Freedom.
- 1) Because of the way that the New Jersey state constitution named voters as "all free persons" and as exercising "his or her vote," women could vote in state elections.
2) This Newark, New Jersey, newspaper, the Centinel of Freedom, published a poem arguing that those who fought against women's voting were "Democrats." What did this term mean in 1797?
3) The phrase "While woman's bound, man can't be free" carried a specific sort of meaning in 1797. How is the Centinel's use of the term "bound" like the use of the term to describe the relationship between England and its colonies in the Declaration of Independence?
- "Keep Within Compass," illustration published between 1785 and 1805 (Winterthur Museum)
- 1) What is the overall message that female viewers of this image were intended to get from it? What symbols would have conveyed that message?
2) What is the woman in the illustration's center panel doing? Would this be typical, or a realistic, depiction of what women did? Or would it be symbolic, and symbolic of what?
3) In the corners of the illustration are images of "fallen" women. What are the activities in which these "bad" women engage? How are they provided as counterpoint to the woman "within compass" at the center of the image?
4) Pay attention to the "layout" of the image. What is the triangle in which the "good" woman stands? What is it a symbol of? Do you recall seeing this symbol in other settings, and what does it represent to Americans during this time?