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What shaped their world and actions was the process of migration, settling a new community, establishing farms with their husbands, and supporting kin and community networks, all of which most likely gave them a strong sense of identity and place. They were not necessarily rebelling so much against a woman's place in provincial life, as they were expressing "[t]heir pride in what they had built and their indignation that [under New York law] it was nevertheless not fully theirs" p.

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Professor Ginzberg begins by presenting a history of ideas concerning the definition of citizenship as it related to women's political identity in nineteenth-century America, considering, for example, classical republicanism, the working-class movement, and the influences of Protestantism. Chapter 3, "Property and Place" then shifts to placing the lives of the six women petitioners into historical context.

Jefferson County was an isolated region to which these families, as members of the property-owning class, "introduced farms, markets, churches, legal stability, and political communities" p. Experiences of this nature combined with the extensive and economically critical work performed by farm wives "made the women's political and legal inequality particularly salient" p. The six petitioners were members of families and communities that consisted of "politically alert and engaged people" p. The strong influence of Protestantism and the "ongoing religious discourse" concerning the "role and status of women" p.


Farm journals and newspapers were extremely important in disseminating ideas and played a central role in shaping "conversations in people's kitchens as well as in convention halls" p. Through newspaper editorials, ideas concerning "the rights of African American men, property rights, and the basic laws of New York" p.

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Likewise, "antislavery activism, rights talk, and women's civic identities emerged and merged, in [the] political life" p. Professor Ginzberg also points to the probable influence of the nearby Iroquois on "rights talk" in Jefferson County because the status and political rights of Iroquois women within their society offered a sharp comparison of possibilities.

August marked the New York constitutional convention.

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Besides the mainstream economic and political issues which required attention, the matter of full citizenship and the rights of African-American men was a central topic. So was the matter of property rights for married women, which Ginzberg discusses in detail. By contrast, the petition of the six women from Jefferson County received no publicity and the petitioners became lost to history, that is until now. That the petition was presented, printed in full, and made its way into the published version of the "convention debates" meant that "the grievance of a half-dozen women was registered, offering a dissenting view of citizenship and belonging" p.

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Lori Ginzberg's account of the intellectual and social processes that brought the women's rights petition into being is one that ultimately takes the story beyond a simple categorization of "women's history" as it deftly weaves together local, social, political and intellectual history. Untidy Origins is a highly readable, well-documented book that offers an extensive and useful bibliography. This thought-provoking work will serve well in both undergraduate and graduate courses in U. Ginzberg's use of what she calls 'leaps of imagination' allows her to go beyond analysis of the facts to explore the world of possibilities.

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Untidy Origins | Lori D. Ginzberg | University of North Carolina Press

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View Inside. On a summer day in two years before the Seneca Falls convention that launched the movement for woman's rights in the United States--six women in rural upstate New York sat down to write a petition to their state's constitutional convention, demanding "equal, and civil and political rights with men.