Montville Author Explores History of Educated Women

Lucia McMahon publishes new book about the social world of women during the early American republic.

Montville resident Lucia McMahon celebrated the release of her new academic book, Mere Equals: The Paradox of Educated Women in the Early American Republic, last week.

McMahon, a professor teaching U.S. history and women's history at William Paterson University and resident of the township for the past six years, has been researching for the book for the past five years, visiting libraries and museums and sifting through dozens of archives. She mostly visited archives in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. McMahon had even received a fellowship to do some research work in Philadelphia for the book.

The book tells the story of how women came to find their identities in a time of inequality.

"McMahon's archival research into the private documents of middling and well-to-do Americans in northern states illuminates educated women’s experiences with particular life stages and relationship arcs: friendship, family, courtship, marriage, and motherhood. In their personal and social relationships, educated women attempted to live as the 'mere equals' of men," according to the book description on the Cornell University Press, the publisher of the book, website.

McMahon searched for letters and pieces that would help support a narrative of a woman's history during that time period.

"Once I was able to find their letters, it was also very challenging," McMahon said.

She spent years piecing together the information she had found into stories that painted a picture of life as an educated woman and the fight for women to be included in political events, such as elections.

While she hopes the book is used in college and university courses (with the exception of her own, as she said she feels her students would not necessarily feel comfortable sharing their opinion on the book they knew she wrote), McMahon said she wrote it in a way that she hopes could be enjoyed by non-students as well.

"One of the things I purposely tried to do was keep it short. It's just about 200 pages," she said. "I tried to make the language as readable as possible."

McMahon said she could see the book being used as part of a women's studies lesson and hopes it encourages critical thinking.

"I would love to see it being used for a classroom," she said.

The book was offiicially released on Oct. 9 but has been for sale for the past several weeks.


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