Sunday, August 23, 2020 9:00 am - 12:00 pm
Carol Berkin / Baruch College
This talk puts to rest another of the remarkable myths of the American Revolution: that it was an all male affair. An 8 year home front war and American women didn’t notice it? In fact, the politicization of women in the 1760s and 1770s is one of the most striking consequences of the rebellion against British rule.
Women made the boycotts of British imports work. They picketed merchants who dared to sell British cloth and tea. They produced homespun or “Liberty cloth” as they called it — willingly engaging in the single most boring task known to colonial America. Women wrote propaganda, from plays to poetry; they signed petitions — not as Mrs. so-and-so, but with their own names, a fact that horrified conservative colonists everywhere, and may have even laid the earliest foundation for the 19th Amendment over a century later.
Valley Forge, Monmouth, etc. were not all male sites. Women and children flocked to the army each winter and transformed army camps into instant cities. Here they did the nursing, the cooking and the washing. Women served as spies, as couriers, and as soldiers. And, thus for the first time schools were created for females. And, as we all know, education is a dangerous thing. It was the next generation who demanded equality.
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Carol Berkin is Presidential Professor of History at Baruch College and a member of the history faculty of the Graduate Center of CUNY. She has worked as a consultant on several PBS and History Channel documentaries, including, The “Scottsboro Boys,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. She has also appeared as a commentator on screen in the PBS series by Ric Burns, “New York,” the Middlemarch series “Benjamin Franklin” and “Alexander Hamilton” on PBS, and the MPH series, “The Founding Fathers.” She serves on the Board of The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Board of the National Council for History Education.
Edward O'Donnell / Holy Cross College
In the relatively short history of the United States, there have been many turning points and landmark movements that irrevocably altered the direction of the nation and signaled the dramatic start of a new historical reality. Some took the form of groundbreaking political and philosophical concepts; some were dramatic military victories and defeats. Still others were nationwide social and religious movements or technological and scientific innovations.
What all of these turning points had in common, is that they forever changed the character of America. Sometimes the changes brought about by these events were obvious; sometimes they were more subtle. Sometimes the effects of these turning points were immediate; other times, their aftershocks reverberated for decades. Certainly, no turning point was more influential and reflective of a changing America than the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919 – often referred to as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. Sometimes the effects of these turning points were immediate; other times, their aftershocks reverberated for decades.
The first and most crucial turning point for the newly independent United States was the presidency of George Washington. His leadership unified the country and set the model for democratic executive leadership in the modern world. The Civil War posed the most profound threat to Washington’s vision, and it is the second great turning point in American history. The Union victory in the Civil War gave way to decades of uncertainty and corruption. The Progressive reforms in American domestic and foreign policy during the early twentieth century transformed the United States into a modern world power — our third turning point. The Great Depression, the Second World War, and the early Cold War — the great mid-twentieth century crises — were a fourth turning point, as profound as the Civil War in many ways. The lecture will close with reflections on 9/11/01 and the subsequent “War on Terror” as a fifth turning point in American history that conditions our current economy, society, and troublesome presidential election. Each of these historical turning points has important lessons to teach us about our future as a nation, and the precarious continuity of the American Dream.
Edward O’Donnell is a professor of History at College of the Holy Cross. He is the author of several books, including Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age. He frequently contributes op-eds to publications like Newsweek and The Huffington Post. He has been featured on PBS, the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and C-SPAN. O’Donnell also has curated several major museum exhibits on American history and appeared in several historical documentaries. He currently hosts a history podcast, “In the Past Lane.”
Andrew Porwancher / University of Oklahoma
Amid the heat of a Philadelphia summer in 1787, the delegates of the Constitutional Convention gathered to save a fledgling republic whose very existence was mired in doubt. Americans had waged a bloody war against their mother country a decade earlier to win their independence. Now, as the delegates debated the contours of a new frame of government, they were all too aware that if they failed, the people might once again take up arms. At this pivotal moment in history, the delegates drafted a Constitution that endures today as the oldest surviving national charter still in effect anywhere in the world.
But what did the framers really mean? Did they intend the Establishment Clause to merely ban a national religion or completely separate church and state? Was the Second Amendment designed to protect the rights of individuals or just militias? Were the framers unanimously in favor of allowing only men to vote, or were there some who felt differently? How much do we actually know about what transpired in Independence Hall? What myths were later invented and accepted as law? The surprising answers to these questions matter, not only for uncovering the truth about our history but for rethinking the laws that govern our lives today.
Andrew Porwancher is the Wick Cary Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma, where he teaches constitutional history. He previously held the Horne Fellowship at Oxford and the Garwood Fellowship at Princeton. Dr. Porwancher is also the recipient of the Longmire Prize for innovative teaching. He is now at work on two new books, “Theodore Roosevelt and the Jews” and “The Jewish Life of Alexander Hamilton.” His first book, “The Devil Himself” is currently being adapted for the stage at a theater company in Dublin.