Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Gender and reconstitution: The individual and family basis of republican government contested, 1868–1925
by Rix, Rebecca Ann, Ph.D., Yale University, 2008, 411; 3342733
Abstract (Summary)

Gender and Reconstitution illuminates a fundamental change in Americans' understanding of the basic unit of the democratic polity in the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. In debates over federally-enacted woman suffrage and in Progressive-era reforms on behalf of women and children, Americans' changing assumptions about family and citizenship created a shift from family-based to individual-based republicanism. Struggles to define the proper unit of republican government were central to debates for and against woman suffrage from after the Civil War through the Nineteenth Amendment's ratification. Suffragists insisted on equal political and legal rights for women as individual citizens. Their arguments opposed the traditional assumption, articulated by anti-suffragists, that men enjoyed privileges of legal autonomy, private property, and suffrage not as individual human beings, but as enfranchised heads of independent households. Men's duties to govern, support, and act as public representative of their "naturally" unequal dependents maintained an identity of interests within the private sphere, a basis for equality in the public sphere, and the liberty of decentralized government.

Increasingly, Americans embraced a new state role in promoting women's equality and social welfare. In the 1910s and 1920s, Americans enacted federal constitutional amendments, innovative legislation, and key legal decisions to establish greater liberty for and protection of individuals formerly considered dependents, including the federal income tax, woman suffrage, child welfare laws, and public health programs. I call this confluence of reforms "Reconstitution": by upending republicanism's implicitly family-based definition of individual rights, these reforms reshaped American ideas regarding property, privacy, and the proper means of governing families, communities, and the modern republic.

This dissertation addresses the suffrage origins of emancipatory individual-based republicanism; the anti-suffrage origins of family-based republicanism; the support by suffragists and anti-suffragists for creating the United States Children's Bureau, which, while premised upon strengthening families, enacted protective individual-based republicanism; anti-suffragists' national battles against the local use of the initiative and referendum; the expansion of the individual-based associative state during World War I; and the 1920s consolidation of both emancipatory and protective types of individual-based republicanism, epitomized respectively by women's modern citizenship and the Sheppard-Towner Act.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Cott, Nancy F.
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 70/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Law, Gender studies
Keywords: Conservatism, Constitutional amendments, Government, Progressive Era, Reformers, Republican, Social welfare, Woman suffrage
Publication Number: 3342733
ISBN: 978-0-549-97805-3
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