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Hello, my name is Valorie. I have a Master's Degree in History and a license to teach-- I have been both university professor and public school teacher. Currently, I am a middle school social studies teacher. I love horror movies and spooky things. Every day is Halloween. I am also a passionate book blogger.

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Book Review: 23:27 by H.L. Roberts

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: We Mean to be Counted by Elizabeth R. Varon

Title: We Mean to Be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia 
Author: Elizabeth R. Varon 
Genre: Nonfiction - History 
Finished: September 28, 2009

The historical consensus is that white women in the antebellum period were excluded from political participation. Varon argues that elite middle-class women were active in political participation, but they did not attempt to occupy the public sphere of men. Instead, women organized benevolent societies, worked as mediators, petitioned, volunteered, wrote, and attended public meetings. This book is not to show us women were always a cohesive force with a long-term goal of suffrage or equality, indeed not because Southern women were generally quite content with the social order. We Mean to be Counted merely rejects the premise that women were entirely excluded from politics by showing that, no, there were women involved. Whether 10 or 10,000, women still found a place for themselves and their talents. According to Varon, women were believed by their nature to be disinterested, moral forces of restraint and education for men and children. In occupying a public sphere through political activity, women were fulfilling the duties of their private sphere of motherhood and wifedom. Organizations such as girl schools and colonization societies were seen as perfect for the nature of a woman, and any political knowledge passed on to her through participation in parties such as the Whig party (Whig Womanhood) was only so that she could use her intelligence to form a patriotic family.

Initially also, Southern women were to act as sectional mediators between the North and South. As time went on, though, and slavery debates heated up, the concept of “Confederate motherhood, with its fervent belief in preserving the South as it was. Varon has written a well-rounded perspective on elite white antebellum women and their roles in politics, which she supports convincingly with her source usage. By refuting a popular and generalized claim that women were not politically active in this time, she contributes new information that is unique and important not only to southern history, but women's history and political science. The book is easy to read, flows coherently, and is made interesting by her inclusion of actual quotes and manuscript snippets. The only weakness to be found in this book is that it is absent anything related to women other than the elite class with the occasional middle-class woman thrown in and a small inclusion on African American women after the war. The book would have presented a more complete picture of women in the antebellum period if it included some information about lower class women. Though lacking influence, common women still would have had ideas and opinions political in nature and would have communicated them to one another by some means. It would seem by the evidence Varon gives that the political participation of women was very large in influence and widespread among the gender, but it must be taken into account that she is speaking of a portion of the female population, not just "white women" in general. The authority with which Varon speaks could be misleading in this way. Virginia was a unique state in the South, though, and by isolating it from the rest of the United States, we see just how much it was. This fact must be kept in mind while reading lest the mistake of made of assuming the entire south was like Virginia.

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