"To form a new world, new systems create": Margaret Lowther Page's poetic revisions of women's roles in the early republic

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Lauren M. Wallis (Creator)
Institution
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Advisor
Karen Weyler

Abstract: This thesis looks at the ways one elite heterosocial literary group in Williamsburg, Virginia, used poetic exchange to discuss their society's developing ideas about politics, marriage, and the roles of women and men. The multi-authored text I analyze was privately printed in 1790, around the time that two of its main contributors, Margaret Lowther Page and John Page, were married.The extant copy of the book belonged to Margaret, and she used it as a place to record fair copies of additional poems that directly discuss her discontent with her role. In the printed text the male poets discuss two seemingly unrelated topics: the upcoming Page marriage and the issues they encounter in their political careers. Their poetic exchanges with each other demonstrate that marital and political institutions were not only male-centered, but also heavily interconnected. Margaret avoids these topics almost entirely in her printed work, writing many of her poems to female friends about their shared experiences of domestic labor, mourning, and friendship.I argue that Margaret used literary exchange to establish a female-centered community that provided a system of support outside of marriage. In her marriage she was limited to a domestic role that supported her husband's political career as a Virginia Congressman, even though the very laws he helped established denied her an official voice in government. Much of her poetry written to female friends subversively opposes the exclusionary systems of marriage and government discussed at length by the male poets. Through exchanges with friends, she privileges female intellectual work over domestic work as she encourages other women's writing and offers her own. Margaret's proto-feminist ideas participate in a long process of questioning and revising inequalities in American society.

Additional Information

Publication
Thesis
Language: English
Date: 2010
Keywords
Early republic, Literary networks, Manuscript, Page, Margaret Lowther, Poetry, Women
Subjects
Poetry $y 18th century $x Women authors $x History and criticism.
Feminism and literature $z United States $x History $y 18th century.
Women $x Social life and customs $y 18th century.
Legislators $z United States $x History $y 18th century.