“Female Genius” in the Age of the Constitution

bilder-female geniusIn her new book, Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution (University of Virginia Press, 2022), Boston College Law School Founders Professor of Law Mary Sarah Bilder recounts the life of a pioneering educator whose ideas likely inspired the gender-neutral language of the U.S. Constitution. Eliza Harriot Barons O’Connor came to the United States and promoted the concept of “female genius”—the belief that women had equal capacity to men, that they should be educated, and that their education would make them capable of participating in politics, in representation, in holding office, and of being fully involved in the constitutional state. A lecture Harriot delivered at the University of Pennsylvania was attended by George Washington as he and other Constitutional Convention delegates gathered in Philadelphia. Bilder used digital technology to trace Harriot’s influence and expand the understanding of women and gender in connection with the framing period of the Constitution. Bilder’s previous book, Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention, earned the Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy, and was a finalist for the George Washington Book Prize. Read more about Female Genius in this Q&A from BC Law Magazine.

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