Header Image: Washington as Statesman at the Constitutional Convention, by Junius Brutus Stearns (1856), courtesy of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch (detail).
The Lady and George Washington:
Female Genius in the Age of the Constitution
Mary Sarah Bilder
The Mount Vernon Distinguished Visiting Lecturer of American History, 2018
In May 1787, awaiting the start of the Constitutional Convention, George Washington went to hear a lecture by a lady at the University of Pennsylvania. The lady was Eliza Harriot Barons O’Connor, daughter of a pro-colonist Boston port collector, niece of a British Rear Admiral of the Blue, and wife of a young Irish barrister with American literary ambitions. Award-winning constitutional historian Mary Sarah Bilder will present a provocative set of illustrated lectures arguing that the Constitution was drafted in an extraordinary moment of progress for women. Could women go to school? Could women govern female academies? Could women give lectures? Could women vote? Could women serve as Senators—or even President? The life and career of the remarkable Eliza Harriot O'Connor, first American female lecturer and principal of a female academy, will be our guide as we explore the ways women and men of the framing era understood female intellect and imagined female political capacity.
About the Lecturer
Mary Sarah Bilder is the Founders Professor of Law at Boston College Law School where she teaches in the areas of property, trusts and estates, and American legal and constitutional history. She received her B.A. with Honors and the Dean’s Prize from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, her J.D. from Harvard Law School, and her A.M. and Ph.D. from Harvard University in the History of American Civilization/American Studies. Her recent work has focused on the history of the Constitution, James Madison and the Founders, the history of judicial review, and colonial and founding era constitutionalism. She is the author of Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention (Harvard University Press) which won the Bancroft Prize, considered one of the most prestigious honors in the field of American history, and was a finalist for the 2017 George Washington Prize.