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The Emerging Nineteenth-Century Southern Woman

The southern United States found themselves at a cultural crossroads in the era before the Civil War. The Second Great Awakening and the Enlightenment inspired women to enter the civic sphere of society, buoyed in part by the growing numbers of female educational opportunities. However, southern women had to temper their progressive tendencies with the antebellum ideal of a “proper lady” – one who was submissive, pious, and caring. Young educated women held a variety of opinions about the world around them and shared them enthusiastically in Scholastic Literature. The portrayal of women in popular literature did not always move with the times. Author William Gilmore Simms, for example, wrote one-dimensional women in his potboiler Martin Faber, the Story of a Criminal despite being a very dedicated father to his daughter. The selected excerpts reveal how men viewed women and how women viewed themselves.