Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution
National Archives Museum
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Mary Sarah Bilder looks to the 1780s—the age of the Constitution—to investigate the rise of a radical new idea in the English-speaking world: female genius. English-born Eliza Harriot Barons O’Connor delivered a University of Pennsylvania lecture attended by George Washington as he and other Constitutional Convention delegates gathered in Philadelphia. As the first such public female lecturer, her courageous performance likely inspired the gender-neutral language of the Constitution. Female Genius reconstructs Eliza Harriot’s transatlantic life, paying particular attention to her lectures and to the academies she founded, inspiring countless young American women to consider a college education and a role in the political forum. By 1792 Harriot’s struggles reflected the larger backlash faced by women and people of color as new written constitutions provided the political and legal tools for exclusion based on sex, gender, and race.
Joining the author in conversation will be Martha S. Jones, professor of history at Johns Hopkins University.
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