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"Young Ladies Literary Society 1813"
(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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Men and women across the United States began forming Social Libraries, Bible Societies, Temperance Societies, Masonic Lodges, and dozens of other associations at the turn of the 19th century. Such groups played an important role in bringing people together in a rapidly moving and swiftly changing society. These associations also reflected Enlightenment beliefs about mankind's ability to improve the world and the human condition. The newly formed United States and its republican citizens were expected to take the lead in ushering in this new era of knowledge and freedom. A group of young women in the rural western Massachusetts town of Deerfield exemplified the optimistic spirit of the age when they formed the Young Ladies Literary Society in 1813. They declared in the preamble to their constitution that "Science and literature are the greatest promotives of human happiness." Subjects debated by members included questions such as, "What is the principal cause of evil in society?" ("Defective Education"); "Is the curiosity of the sexes equal?" (Affirmative); "Ought novel reading to be prohibited by law?" (Affirmative); and, "What vice is most hurtful?" ("Drunkenness"). Interestingly, the final question the Society apparently ever debated, "Ought a female ever to rule a nation?" was never decided.
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