Improved Educational Opportunities for Women in the New Nation

The education of women in American history was abolished and men dominated the social, political, and economic sphere. Women were expected to take care of household needs and standby as their male counterparts made policies. Racial, sex and socioeconomic status discrimination were the norms of the day until the mid-19th century regardless of intellectual equality (167-172). Benevolent societies came up resisting the unequal rights that existed between gender, class, and race. The white women had better opportunities for a quality education after the Constitutional reforms while the women of colour had to fight against slavery and unequal socio-economic status before their women could start participating in the social space, giving public opinions, and claiming education rights (161-166).

This paper provides an analysis of the educational benefits that women in post-revolutionary America enjoyed after Constitutional reforms that defined the New Nation. It hypothesizes that, while race, class, and socioeconomic status were still influential factors to the access of quality education by women, the new opportunities significantly increased their involvement in the Antebellum Society as learned persons. However, their participation in the expanding social space was still inferior as opposed to their counterparts whose roles were legally defined.

Improved educational opportunities for women in the New Nation significantly expanded their participation in Antebellum Society

The learned women in post-revolutionary and antebellum American society had various aspirations such as venturing more into the public sphere. Nonetheless, they faced the risk of actually claiming that position. This can be attributed to the perception of the social space that viewed it as deviance (160). Nonetheless, the introduction of education among women opened new opportunities for them. They choose careers as editors, writers, educators as well as reformers. As such, women were able to redefine themselves. The women that embraced these changes in the civil society mentored the others to look beyond their household responsibilities and expectations (160). Although many women looked forward to schooling, only a few had the economic resources for it. This is particularly so for those looking to attend the top women’s schools whose quality standards matched up to the male colleges. These women chose education taking into account the values instilled in them and the vocabulary of gendered republicanism as the civil society deemed it (161). The cultural inheritance the women received from their respective backgrounds determined whether or not they were predisposed to books and ideas. Depending on the family status, some women had both social and economic capital while others lacked either, meaning their opportunities for a good education varied (165).

The on-going market revolution and technological innovations influenced the lives of all Americans, particularly in rural areas. This drove most families to spare their economic, social, and cultural capital to educate children. With the proper and quality education provided by some of the American schools, women were in a better position to advance their lives thus promoting economic self-support (161). The boldness of women to embrace education and participate in civil society was strengthened by the constitution that redefined their obligation and rights as citizens (161). With the social space growing decade after decade, the Republic transformed. Women were no longer restricted to household responsibilities. The designed set Bill of Rights aimed to provide a sense of self in the post-Revolutionary academies and antebellum seminaries. Nonetheless, the New Nation considered Americans and Europeans the elite classes in comparison to the other less privileged groups that had lower social, economic, and political ranks (166).

Many literary societies like the white women’s rights and black people’s emancipation, mutual improvement associations, and reading circles paved the way for various social reforms (164). This allowed more women to stay bold and confident as they offered their public opinion. Furthermore, these movements protested discrimination against sex and race, aspects that were before used to define the so-called, ‘uncivilized’ objects (162). All in all, the class and race these women came from affected their devotion towards books (reading and writing) (166). This also applies to their participation in social reforms and organized benevolence. Women of color focused their benevolent societies to address slavery and racial prejudice. As editors, writers, and teachers, these women composed essays, poems, and stories to voice their public opinions in antislavery newspapers (163).

Improved educational opportunities for women in the New Nation did not significantly expand their participation in Antebellum Society

As women began exploring the education opportunities they could access, they soon realized the latent hostility that existed between sex differences and intellectual equality. In essence, female schools would not be called colleges as this would appear as an intrusion into male education. They were thus known as female seminaries where women would be taught not with the aim of developing a profession out of it, but passing on knowledge particularly to their children once married (167). Regardless of the masculine education that still existed, women have new opportunities at their disposal (168). While the society accepted and explored the participation of educated women, this intellectual equality was thought to interrupt the socio-economic and political spheres as a result of sexual difference (175).

At this point, education was viewed as a pillar to the New Nation and hence its access to both men and women was a form of nation-building. McMahon argues that, “Educators established scores of new academies and seminaries for both women and men, insisting that education was an essential component of nation building” (168). The sexual difference, however, still drove a gap to the expectations of many. The more educated the men were reflected in well-informed professionals for proper political and social ideals. For women, on the other hand, it meant well-mannered individuals to create a solid foundation for social and domestic happiness. The challenge of unequal education facilities for women still remained. Though the early National Americans began to embrace the intellectual equality between men and women, the latter sex was considered different in so many other ways. This included their morals, manners, dispositions, duties, and general roles in the societal framework. This further meant that their employment varied as well as a mode of education in comparison to their counterparts.

According to McMohan, to say that improved education opportunities for women in the New Nation significantly expanded their participation in Antebellum Society is misleading (167). While their intellectual abilities were considered equal, the female body was viewed as unfit for political equality. This meant that women could not participate in governance or policy-making like men (169). Furthermore, men argued that nature herself confined women to domestic duties of being a mother and caregiver while excluding them from roles regarding public offices. In an attempt to promote equality, women were given an education for intellectual and social roles but their body difference reflected their varying stations from men. The early national Americans allocated the roles of either gender based on natural distractions that they believed defined what one gender and race could do and what the other could not. This led to intellectual capacity equality and a male hierarchy with the objective of maintaining set political and social order (169).

The intellectual equality allowed women to become agreeable members of society and serviceable in their domestic life. So, unlike men that got educated for their own goals, women were expected to acquire knowledge for the sake of helping the republican society. Women were, therefore, not educated to become better versions of themselves but to better serve their country and men. Besides their moral influence, educated women were considered more attractive companions in Antebellum Society. More selfish of all is the New Nation’s ability to consider the impact education for women would have on men rather than their own aspirations and achievements. In his conclusion McMahon says “The abandonment of mere equality was perhaps inevitable, in that it represented a paradoxical expression of gender identity simultaneously reified sexual difference even as it promoted intellectual equality” (176).

My Verdict

It is clear that education inequality was a problem faced by all women in early American society. Nonetheless, as time went by, the nation realized the significance of providing quality schooling for women to promote nation-building. Educated women were a pride to the community as it meant better manners for all and improved morals. This is because women took up professions like teaching, writing, editing, and nursing that they would teach others as time went by. Although the career opportunities these educated women would explore were limited, I believe that the new educational opportunities available to them significantly expanded their participation in Antebellum Society. They certainly did not engage in the political sphere right there and then, but as time went by, their voices for policy changes were heard. This is reflected in the promotion of gender equality for education and various movements that encouraged reforms for race equality.

Despite the personal aspirations the learned women had, they often dealt with multiple social constraints. Nonetheless, as years went by, they revised their career and strategy paths to fit the less complex and more elaborate options out there. This way, they became influential figures not only in the local society but also in regional and national stages. Women were welcomed to be members of governing bodies such as in schools and slowly began participating in policy reforms in New Nation.


This paper aims to answer the question; did improved educational opportunities for women in the New Nation significantly expand their participation in Antebellum Society? It is of the hypothesis that race, class, and socioeconomic status were still influential factors to the access of quality education by women. Nonetheless, women with the capital resources attended female seminaries and the new opportunities significantly increased their involvement in the Antebellum Society as learned persons. Education for women in the Antebellum Society was a new thing introduced in the nation following arguments for intellectual equality between men and women. Nevertheless, as to whether or not the improved educational opportunities for women in the New Nation significantly expanded in their participation in the Antebellum Society is debatable. While Mary Kelly clearly argues that these educational opportunities allowed women to participate better in the domestic, economic, and political spheres, McMahon tends to disagree. In her conclusion, McMahon says that women attained intellectual equality, yes, but the opportunities they could explore thereafter were limited to their social and domestic lives. I believe these educational opportunities allowed women to attain the intellectual capacity to better participate in the political, social, and economic frameworks regardless of the male hierarchy as well as the sexual difference that existed.

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