Undergraduate Honors Thesis

The nature of Quaker society after the American Revolution was significantly different from that of the colonial period, particularly in terms of gender relations and social reform.  I argue that these differences can be traced to the community’s experience as pacifists, persecuted for possible loyalist sympathies during the American Revolution.  This experience drove many Quakers to reevaluate their individual and collective identities and set the stage for their later emergence as leaders of reform movements in the early republic and nineteenth century.  An examination of the private papers, letters, and journals of prominent eighteenth century Philadelphia Quakers reveals the deep personal impact of war even among noncombatants on the home front.  The letters and diaries of Quaker men – widely imprisoned during the war – expose a crisis of masculinity, as they found themselves unable to care for or lead their families.  Meanwhile, the absence of their husbands, brothers, and fathers forced Quaker women to become versed in a public role often unfamiliar to them in order to provide for their families.  This upheaval in Quaker gender relations led to a collective renegotiation of the role of Quaker men and women in both private and public spheres after the war.  For their own part, Quaker women carried their newfound political and social confidence into later reform efforts that emphasized female independence.  Quaker men, on the other hand, attempted to reassert their domestic dominance by working to limit female involvement in reform movements and by themselves participating in reform efforts that allowed them the opportunity to provide for society at large.  Ironically, by seeking to cling to traditional notions of gender, Quaker men ushered in a new era of progress for American society.

Wuertenberg Undergraduate Honors Thesis


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