Historian to Talk on Frances Wright’s Nashoba April 6

KNOXVILLE — Gail Bederman, a historian of gender, women and culture in the United States, will speak about Frances Wright’s Nashoba community, at 4 p.m. on April 6 in the Black Cultural Center, Room 102, on the University of Tennessee campus.

The talk, which is free and open to the public, is part of the history department’s Milton M. Klein Visiting Scholars Series.

Bederman’s talk is entitled “Revisiting Frances Wright’s Nashoba: Slavery, Sex, and Liberty in Tennessee, 1825-27.”

Wright was a British author, radical and protégé of American Revolutionary hero Marquis de Lafayette. She was enthralled with the United States, which she first visited in 1818. Wright lectured nationwide on women’s rights, birth control and public education and wrote “Views of Society and Manners in America,” a popular book that praised America. But Wright’s enthusiasm for the New Republic was diminished by her experiences in the slave South. Wright viewed slavery as a problem that diminished America’s integrity as a democratic republic and as a symbol of liberty, and as an imminent threat to America’s social and financial security. Wright hoped to perfect American liberty through a complex financial scheme that would support the removal of all slaves to colonies outside of the United States. She used much of her inheritance to buy land near what is now Germantown, Tenn., near Memphis, and establish the community of Nashoba, where she intended to build a model project for first emancipating and then colonizing slaves.

“Nashoba is commonly misremembered as an interracial Owenite utopia — an inspiring early step on the road to abolitionism and racial equality. Its true story, however, is far more complex,” Bederman said. “Originally formed as an attempt to rid the United States of both slavery and ex-slaves, Nashoba soon failed. Bitter and demoralized by the speedy collapse of her colonization project, Wright and her white associates cast about for alternative plans for her land and slaves. The ensuing sexual scandal casts new light upon the forgotten roots of the political divides of our own day.”

Bederman is an associate professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of “Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the U.S., 1890-1917,” and is currently working on a multi-volume research project about public political debates over reproduction in U.S. history prior to Roe v. Wade.

The Milton M. Klein Visiting Scholars Series features distinguished historians of early American history, American legal history and historiography. The series honors the career of Milton M. Klein, alumni distinguished service professor of history until his retirement in 1984, and reflects his lifelong commitment to making the study of history dynamic and accessible.

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