Catherine Allgor, “Parlor Politics”

In Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government, Catherine Allgor revises more traditional political histories of the early republic by viewing national politics through the framework of the development of events in Washington City, and specifically, women’s role in affecting those developments.  Allgor argues that by focusing only on “official” political developments that feature only the voices and actions of men, a substantial portion of the history of development of politics in the United States is obscured, because the “public” and “private” spheres often blurred together in Washington between 1800 and 1830, thus affording women a much more influential role in politics than has often been assumed.  In their capacity as wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, women utilized social events—balls, soirees, drawing rooms, and individual visits—to help establish the extra-institutional structures the nation’s capital desperately needed in order to ensure the proper function of the national government.  In assuming this role, the elite and middle-class white women of Washington exerted tremendous influence on how the shape and power of the federal government, as it increased in strength, size, and complexity.

Allgor, like Parsons, sees this period in American history as the crucible in which modern politics developed.  Unlike Parsons, however, Allgor sees the public and private spheres as inexorably linked prior to 1830, as the social events of the period, largely controlled by the women of Washington, served indisputably political purposes.  As such, the women of Washington helped usher in a new age in national politics.

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