Republican Motherhood: Definition & Summary

During the Colonial Period, mothers typically carried out their usual responsibilities of taking care of their children and husbands. This lesson will explore how their roles changed during the American Revolution.
From Colonialism to Revolutionism
During the colonial period, an independent woman with any type of responsibility away from the home was a rarity. A woman’s role was based solely on the opportunities afforded her by the fortunes and privileges of her father or husband. Therefore, a woman living in colonial America had very limited activities outside of her home. Cleaning, cooking, and caring for the children were typical daily routines.
After the American Revolution, this changed. When the thirteen colonies fought to end the control of the British monarchy, the revolution forced many women to maintain their households alone. As a result, a new class of outspoken, powerful, independent women slowly emerged. Mothers were raising children to value patriotism. They supported their sons to fight for liberty, and encouraged their daughters to develop the same attitude as mothers of the next generation.
What Is Republican Motherhood?
The term Republican Motherhood represents a belief that mothers were responsible for raising children to practice the principles of republicanism, thus making them perfect citizens of a new country. Republicanism refers to governing as a republic. In other words, citizens have sovereignty or power and aren’t subject to the rules of a monarchy. A republic form of government has elected leaders instead of selected aristocracy. Mainly, republicanism represents political liberty.
The concept of Republican Motherhood also defines a time in American history when a woman’s role changed from just conducting typical domestic responsibilities to passing on the values of morality and civic duty. In doing so, women were expressing independence and initiative, based on their religious beliefs, political views, and educational agendas.
Ironically, the term Republican Motherhood was first introduced, not during the eighteenth or nineteenth century, but in 1980 by an author describing the concept in a book about women of the American Revolution. As a result, other authors and historians began to use the same term.
Benefits or Expectations?
Educational opportunities emerged during this time, as the number of private schools for girls, many first starting in 1790, increased. Also increasing was the range of studies offered, including subjects such as philosophy and mathematics.
In 1837, the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, later known as Mount Holyoke College, was established and earned the reputation of producing a unique class of women with political and social independence, part of the philosophy of Republican Motherhood. Another political advantage emerged almost fifty years later, when in 1848 the Seneca Falls Convention was held, and the Women’s Rights movement began. This was also an extension of the philosophies supported by Republican Motherhood.
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