Date of Degree

9-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

History

Advisor

Kathleen D. McCarthy

Committee Members

Martin Burke

Andrew Robertson

Zara Anishanslin

Subject Categories

Cultural History | Legal | Political History | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies

Keywords

New York City, women, early republic, capitalism, property, politics

Abstract

The dissertation studies elite women’s political consciousness in New York City between 1783 and 1815, contextualizing women’s position within the city’s social strata and the rise of market capitalism in the post-Revolutionary era. In a period of deferential politics, women within the leadership class played a unique role in remodeling the structure of republican government and determining who belonged within it. Building on the foundation of learned femininity, they constructed the etiquette that undergirded men’s political careers and oversaw the marriage market. They mediated divisions between new merchant capital and more established landed wealth, reinforcing dynastic stability. Moreover, they were essential actors in the city’s marketplace as consumers, property owners, and investors. These women shaped a new cadre of republican political leaders, and oversaw the city’s hospitality when it served as the federal capital. When partisan divisions threatened to tear elites apart in the 1790s, they leveraged their economic resources and social capital to maintain harmony, negotiating partisanship through their entertaining. However, as the 1790s wore on, women found their economic stability and political activism increasingly restricted. By placing the growth of the city’s commercial marketplace into dialogue with shifting patterns of elite women’s inheritance, estate administration, and partisanship, “An Alliance of Ladies” links the maturation of market capitalism to increasing gender constraints. Particularly after the election of 1800, the move from a Federalist toward a Democratic-Republican regime narrowed women’s opportunities. Nonetheless, New York offered unique opportunities to its wealthy female inhabitants because of its shifting class structure, flourishing economic marketplace, and political significance. One cannot understand the trajectory of New York’s development without considering the key role women played in sustaining an urban leadership class.

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