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Justice for All Without Exception: Julia Ward Howe's 1886 Lecture “The Position of Women in Plato's Republic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 February 2021

Mary Townsend*
Affiliation:
Philosophy Department, St. John's University, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Queens, New York11439, USA
*
Corresponding author. Email: townsenm@stjohns.edu

Abstract

Julia Ward Howe, author of the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” remains known as a poet, abolitionist, and founding member of the antiracist organization American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), but her work on political philosophy and her foundational sense of the necessity for justice and suffrage for all without exception are still unexplored. Howe's speech, “The Position of Women in Plato's Republic” provides a window into the philosophy that shaped the second half of her life and her political organizing. Howe explores problems feminist scholars have often had with Socrates's plans to educate and enfranchise women of the ruling class, analyzes the rhetoric behind Socrates's successful persuasion of reluctant interlocutors, and transforms Plato's arguments into overwhelming rhetorical support for universal suffrage. Howe's intellectual conversion to the cause of suffrage, which occurred later in life and after her support for the 15th Amendment, comes into focus as she wrestles with the questions fundamental to her change of heart: women's moral relationship to human excellence, whether suffrage would destabilize family life, the relationship of gender to divine genderless unity, and the relationship of the Platonic principle of the Good to practical political policy.

Type
Article
Information
Hypatia , Volume 36 , Issue 1 , Winter 2021 , pp. 145 - 171
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Hypatia, a Nonprofit Corporation

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