May 19, 2022

223. Attending a Lecture on Female Genius with Dr. Mary Sarah Bilder

223. Attending a Lecture on Female Genius with Dr. Mary Sarah Bilder

In May 1787, George Washington arrived in Philadelphia to attend the Constitutional Convention. One afternoon, as he waited for the other delegates to show up so the convention could begin, Washington accompanied some ladies to a public lecture at the University of Pennsylvania by a woman named Eliza Harriot Barons O’Conner.

Eliza Harriot, as she signed her name, had led a transatlantic life steeped in revolutionary ideas. On that May afternoon she argued in favor of the radical notion of Female Genius, the idea that women were intellectually equal to men and deserved both equal opportunity for education and political representation.

On today’s show, we dive deeper into Harriot’s story as Dr. Mary Sarah Bilder, who joins Jim Ambuske to discuss her latest book Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution, published by the University of Virginia Press in 2022. Bilder is the Founders Professor of Law at Boston College Law School. And as you’ll learn, Harriot’s performance that day may have inspired the new Constitution’s gender-neutral language.

Dr. Mary Sarah Bilder Profile Photo

Dr. Mary Sarah Bilder

Professor / Author

Professor Mary Sarah Bilder teaches in the areas of property, trusts and estates, and American legal and constitutional history at Boston College Law School. She received her B.A. with Honors (English) and the Dean’s Prize from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, her J.D. (magna cum laude) from Harvard Law School, and her A.M. (History) and Ph.D. from Harvard University in the History of American Civilization/American Studies. She is the author of Female Genius: Eliza Harriot and George Washington at the Dawn of the Constitution (UVA Press, 2022) and Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention (Harvard University Press, 2017).