FEMINIST WEEKLY

Culture

Why We Should Stop Saying “Founding Fathers”

Resham Parikh
February 15, 2016 4:46 PM

Conservatives have been up in arms since 2008 over a San Diego government correspondence manual that requests employees use the bias-free term “founders” instead of “Founding Fathers” – and Mayor Kevin Faulconer has finally given in. In a statement, Faulconer said the clause is “political correctness run amok;” he has ordered the clause to be removed from the manual.

 

Pacific Justice Institute issued a letter today in support of the decision, saying, “The manual's inane attempt to recast the fathers as simply 'the founders' reaches a level of political correctness, censorship and insensitivity toward time-honored American values that is indefensible.” (Is it just me or is sexism, patriarchy, and leaving women out of history an American value we should stop honoring?)

 

Let’s not forget the many women who were just as critical to the founding of our democracy – despite the limitations placed on them by law and society. Their letters, journals, and other stories were not preserved as that of their counterparts. But while revolutionaries were at war or working in government, women defended their houses, managed their businesses, raised their families, and provided political advice and opinions behind closed doors. And if not for sexism and patriarchy, they’d have certainly participated in politics themselves.

 

Here are two “Founding Mothers” to celebrate along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln today.

 

Abigail Adams

 

President George Washington was succeeded by John Adams, whose wife – Abigail Adams –was a strong advocate for gender equality and the abolition of slavery. She believed statesmen needed to consider women's needs – socially, politically, and educationally – and championed equal education and property rights. Abigail had quite a bit of influence over John's political decisions. In fact, she and her husband sent over 1,100 letters to one another discussing law and politics. In March of 1776, she wrote to John and to the Continental Congress, "...remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation."

 

Abigail rejected the notion that a woman should only be a companion for her husband. She believed women should be an equal influence in society and in their families and raised her son, John Quincy Adams, to be earnest about equal rights and emancipation. According to Cokie Roberts, author of Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, “John Quincy Adams subscribed to the thesis that his mother's generation was unique when he complained to [his wife] that there were no modern women like her. Abigail, God love her, shot back that women might act frivolous and flighty, but only because men wanted them to.”

Slavery, Abigail felt, was an evil practice and a threat to democracy. She was raised in a household that was anti-slavery and felt outright defiant that Black Americans should be considered separate from White Americans. In a socially defiant move, Adams helped a young black servant learn to read and write, saying to those who objected, "merely because his face is black, is he to be denied instruction? How is he to be qualified to procure a livelihood? ... I have not thought it any disgrace to my self to take him into my parlor and teach him both to read and write." Rebellious until the end of her days, Abigail wrote a will requesting the majority of her possessions be left to her female next-of-kin, regardless of the fact that she was succeeded by her son and her husband, who outlived her for 8 more years.

 

Mercy Otis Warren

 

After Mercy Otis Warren’s brother was brutally beaten by British revenue officers, Mercy began hosting protest meetings at her home. These meetings involved John Adams, James Warren, and other patriots and were the precursor to Samuel Adams’ Committees of Correspondence.

 

Mercy participated liberally in these conversations, and the men in the room listened as she spoke. She eventually became a historian of the Revolutionary era and a propagandist. She created three polemical plays and published them in a Boston newspaper (anonymously, of course). The first of her plays, The Adulateur was a satire of Massachusett’s royal governor, followed by The Defeat and The Group – the latter a satire of the British King himself. Her satire was unforgiving – exposing the vice of colonialists and the need for revolution.

 

Warren continued to write after the Revolution about her political opinions and wrote frequently to Abigail and John Adams about the lack of opportunity for women to develop their capacities. After the war had ended, Warren was vocal about her disagreement with the Constitution and a strong central government. Writing to newspapers under the pseudonym, “A Columbian Patriot,” she argued that the Constitution needed a bill of rights – otherwise it undermined several key liberties: freedom of press, trials by jury, freedom from military oppression, term limits, annual elections, prohibitio of search and seizure without a warrant, direct accress to representatives, and local control over taxation. Antifederalists published almost four times as many of her Columbian Patriot letter than the new famous Federalist Papers – not knowing she was a woman, of course.

 

And in 1805, she completed a three-volume historical account of the American Revolution, History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution.

 

The term Founding Fathers

 

“Founding Fathers” creates a connection to our nation’s history – that we are a people who share a common history, heritage, and (artificial) lineage. But it forgets the inequalities of the times and diminishes contributions from non-white males. I’d consider the women above part of the nation’s founding members. Wouldn’t you?

Relevant articles