John Caspar Wild, Destruction by Fire of Pennsylvania Hall, 1838. Lithograph. Library Company of Philadelphia, *W94 [P.9057.27].
Center for Women's History
Women’s history is American history. Bring it into your classroom with our new curriculum!
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Module 2- Breaking the Rules: Women Reformers, 1800-1848
“Breaking the Rules” focuses on experiences of American women during what a Boston newspaper dubbed “The Era of Good Feelings.” The period of the 1820s through the 1840s was marked by relative political stability and the burgeoning economic opportunities connected with the early Industrial Era. The “good feelings” did not extend to all—the practice of slavery, entrenched racial and gender inequality, and the hard realities of many people’s lives continued. And through it all, women of all races and social classes continued the labor of determining what place women should hold in the new United States of America.
This unit explores two intertwined women’s movements of the 1820s through 1840s: the cult of true womanhood and the rise of the reformers. The cult of true womanhood replaced republican womanhood as the guiding ideal for women’s daily lives. With the nation steady on its feet, middle-class women were discouraged from pursuing considerations of citizenship and politics, and instead redirected to focus on home, religion, and raising sons who could enter the world of business. At the same time, many women turned their newfound moral superiority outward, launching a reform movement that would lead, in fits and starts, to the earliest calls for women’s suffrage.
Suggested Activities & Discussion Questions
The Edmonson Sisters
Lydia Maria Child
Amelia Jenks Bloomer
Resource 10: Benevolent Societies
Resource 11: Catharine Beecher’s Campaign Against Indian Removal
Resource 12: Quakers, Women, and Reform
Resource 13: Fire at Pennsylvania Hall
Resource 14: Fashion Plates
Resource 15: Women Abolitionists in London
Resource 16: NYS Married Women’s Property Law
Resource 17: Reactions to Seneca Falls
Resource 18: Bloomers