The Gendered Meanings of Virtue in Revolutionary America

Ruth H. Bloch

in Gender and Morality in Anglo-American Culture, 1650-1800

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2003 | ISBN: 9780520234055
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520936478 | DOI:
The Gendered Meanings of Virtue in Revolutionary America

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This chapter takes on a more specific and fundamental question about American revolutionary ideology: how political understandings of “virtue” became in the late-eighteenth century increasingly private and feminized. It also tries to uncover the latent assumptions about gender informing American Revolutionary thought. It argues that an examination of the multivalent meanings embedded in the term virtue leads to a more complex and dynamic understanding not only of gender but also of Revolutionary ideology itself. According to literary sentimentalism, virtue was above all a feminine quality. American Protestantism, Scottish moral philosophy, and literary sentimentalism opened the way for the feminization of ideas about public virtue. The transformation in the meaning of virtue during the Revolutionary period sharpened the social boundaries between the sexes in ways that continue to deny power to all classes of women.

Keywords: gender; American revolutionary ideology; public virtue; American Protestantism; Scottish moral philosophy; literary sentimentalism; feminization

Chapter.  7061 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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