Reforming Men and Women: Gender in the Antebellum City
Before the Civil War, the public lives of American men and women intersected most frequently in the arena of religious activism. Bruce Dorsey broadens the field of gender studies, incorporating an analysis of masculinity into the history of early American religion and reform. His is a holistic account that reveals the contested meanings of manhood and womanhood among antebellum Americans, both black and white, middle class and working class.
Urban poverty, drink, slavery, and Irish Catholic immigration -- for each of these social problems that engrossed Northern reformers, Dorsey examines the often competing views held by male and female activists and shows how their perspectives were further complicated by differences in class, race, and generation. His primary focus is Philadelphia, birthplace of nearly every kind of benevolent and reform society and emblematic of changes occurring throughout the North. With an especially rich history of African-American activism, the city is ideal for Dorsey's exploration of race and reform.
Combining stories of both ordinary individuals and major reformers with an insightful analysis of contemporary songs, plays, fiction, and polemics, Dorsey exposes the ways race, class, and ethnicity influenced the meanings of manhood and womanhood in nineteenth-century America. By linking his gendered history of religious activism with the transformations characterizing antebellum society, he contributes to a larger quest: to engender all of American history.