Ways of Seeing. Problems of Perception - The Antebellum Case

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This paper critiques ‘presentism’ in approaches to writing about the experience of women in the Antebellum period of American history. Examining the adverse effects of prioritising current notions of ‘success’ and the ‘public sphere’ when examining women’s experience in the past, it juxtaposes the activities of women from a variety of philosophical and religious traditions in the period, such as feminists Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; abolitionists Angelina and Sarah Grimké; advocates of professionalising the domestic sphere Catherine E. Beecher and Sarah Josepha Hale; teachers and missionaries Mary Lyon, Emma Willard and Hannah Reeves. Dichotomising the social topography of the era into discrete ‘public’ and ‘private’ arenas according to our own current understandings is shown to obscure the ongoing negotiation of social reality in which such women were all fully active, whilst preselecting particular ideas of ‘equality’ as ‘better’ or ‘sounder’ than others is proven merely to obscure the richness of ongoing discourse at the time between women and women, as well as women and men.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 1991
EventBritish Association for American Studies Conference - Wolverhampton Polytechnic, Wolverhampton, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Apr 19917 Apr 1991


ConferenceBritish Association for American Studies Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • American history
  • American studies
  • Women's history
  • American religion
  • Antebellum reform
  • American feminism
  • American religious history
  • Religious revivals
  • Sarah Grimke
  • Antebellum America
  • Cult of True Womanhood
  • Angelina Grimke
  • Catherine Beecher
  • Sarah Josepha Hale


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