Sunday, June 28, 2009

Just finished reading - Southern Sons: Becoming Men In The New Nation by Lorri Glover

In Southern Sons, Lorri Glover, a history professor at the University of Tennessee, explores the world of adolescents as they matured toward manhood in the early national period (roughly 1790 to 1820).

By doing a significant amount of research in primary sources from South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, and Maryland, Glover paints a picture of the expectations and realizations of young elite men in these regions. Many of the men coming to manhood during this era would be the political movers and shakers of the rapid expansion period in American history and would help shape a South that would find itself at war with the North just a few years later.

The topics Glover covers are numerous, but her coverage of the college experiences of Southern young men is especially interesting. Of course in order to become a proper Southern gentleman one had to have an occupation that was worthy of the title. And, to obtain that occupation it was likewise often necessary to have the proper education. Glover explains that many Southern parents sent their children to Northern schools at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. It was believed, and was probably true that the best schools were in the North. After all, there weren't all that many Southern schools besides William and Mary at this time. Southern young men went to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to learn to be lawyers, and most often, the University of Pennsylvania to be doctors. Learning law was important because it often led to a career in politics; the perceived arena of "public service" in this era. As antislavery sentiment grew in Europe, and then to the northeastern United States, Southern states started founding their own colleges to instill what was viewed as "proper" education; i.e. slavery defensive. The universities, or what became the universities of Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia were all founded in the first three decades of the 19th century.

In this section of the book it is especially fascinating to read the hi-jinks that college students perpetrated during this era. It is comforting to know that the college students of the 21st century are not breaking any new ground in extracurricular activities (drinking, gambling, fighting).

Glover also pays a significant amount of attention to the courtship and marriage rites of young Southern men. Although most families allowed young women to choose their own mate, particular pressure was placed on them to select a young man that would protect and provide for them, and one that never bring shame on the family name. Likewise young Southern men were expected to choose mates that would bring honor to their own family name.

The subtitle necessarily limits the scope of this book to the early national period, but being only 185 pages, it appears that there could have been a continuation of the topic on into the antebellum era. I am certain there would be enough primary source material. Maybe that is the author's future intention. I think that particular study would make a fascinating companion piece to this book.

No comments:

Post a Comment