2020 Jonathan B. Rintels Prize for Best Honors Thesis in the Social Sciences Goes to History Major

The 2020 Jonathan B. Rintels Prize for best honors thesis in the Social Sciences was awarded to Courtney Stump '20 for her history thesis titled, ""For the Public Good": Women's Political Engagement in Revolutionary-era Boston." Her advisor, Professor Paul Musselwhite writes:

"Stump's thesis boldly seeks to revisit some of the fundamental tenants of Revolutionary-Era women's history. While scholars since the 1970s have recognized that the American Revolution offered new opportunities for women in society and politics, they have concluded that many of these gains were hemmed in by ideas about domesticity and were subject to a patriarchal "backlash." Stump's work, though, demonstrates the complexity and seriousness with which ideas about gender were debated in the years of rising revolutionary tensions, and the profound ramifications that these debates had for defining the "public" in the new American nation. It reconstructs the intricacies of the intellectual framework around gender and public life in late-eighteenth-century Boston. She demonstrates, in ways that professional historians have never grasped, that ideas drawn from puritanism, the English commonwealth tradition, and Enlightenment philosophy were combined to articulate a new vision of the revolutionary "public" in which women could exercise explicitly "political" influence. 

Courtney's research is incredibly extensive, incorporating a exhaustive study of newspaper sources over three decades and a considerable collection of archival materials. This allows for numerous profound insights that might have warranted a thesis all of their own. Courtney uses truly innovative methods  to demonstrate not only that women wrote about politics in private, but that they did not even conceptualize such action as "private." Rather than focusing on how women's influence in public life was restricted by new ideas about domesticity, Stump reveals the ways in which they had radically reshaped the "public" into something over which they could exercise authority from their homes. Moreover, as Courtney articulates so profoundly in her epilogue, her work has critical implications for the way we understand the place of women in American politics in our contemporary moment. Her thesis offers a refreshing new take on a feminist history of the American Revolution. It locates ordinary women in revolutionary America as not simply political actors dragged along by the currents of independence, but as political thinkers playing a central role in framing of American ideology."