Date of Award

Spring 1995

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Laurel T Ulrich


This dissertation adds a new chapter to the history of the social revolution that accompanied the American Revolution, specifically the revolt against patriarchalism. It is my contention that exceptional women initiated a private revolution to gain recognition of a new personal identity. This private revolution led to the rejection of the system of private government of man over woman, patriarchalism.

I identified seven women, Eliza Lucas Pinckney, Abigail Adams, Esther Edwards Burr, Mercy Otis Warren, Eliza Southgate Bowne, Anne Willing Bingham and Anne Home Shippen, who were especially representative of a network of women who developed a self-consciousness. For these highly literate women print became an important source of communication, and of ideas about self. Unable to control the reception of their work, Locke and Richardson provided the intellectual basis for a new idea of woman as a human being sensible of her own happiness and misery, and therefore not subject to the arbitrary authority of patriarchalism which reduced free thinking human beings to the status of slave. Reason was the new definition of authority, and the care of self was the new definition of duty. The letters and journals of these self-conscious women told stories of heroic disengagement, rebellious ambition, and critically assertive accommodation, levels of intensity that corresponded roughly to the self-consciousness of the main characters in Richardson's Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison.

The struggle for free will, the right to achieve personal distinction, evoked a new vision of society that collided with the republican vision of America's elite men. Although described as enlightened, the republican vision depended upon the superior-subordinate relations of patriarchy to preserve the legitimate authority of the elite. Self-conscious women were a threat to the republican vision. Although their language was also Lockean, enlightened patriarchs deemed their behavior aristocratic. The republican woman was self-less, obedient and domestic.

Self-consciousness did not lose to the concept of the republican woman. The development of self-consciousness was a separate phenomena. It was not a political issue. It was a class-based gender issue that collided with, and ran counter to, a political-social upheaval.