Linda Kerber argued in the mid-1980's that after the American Revolution (1775-1783), an ideology of "republican motherhood" resulted in a surge of educational opportunities for women in the United States. Kerber maintained that the leaders of the new nation wanted women to be educated in order to raise politically virtuous sons. A virtuous citizenry was considered essential to the success of the country's republican form of government; virtue was to be instilled not only by churches and schools, but by families, where the mother's role was crucial. Thus, according to Kerber, motherhood became pivotal to the fate of the republic, providing justification for an unprecedented attention to female education.
Introduction of the republican motherhood thesis dramatically changed historiography. Prior to Kerber's work, educational historians barely mentioned women and girls; Thomas Woody's 1929 work is the notable exception. Examining newspaper advertisements for academies, Woody found that educational opportunities increased for both girls and boys around 1750. Pointing to "An Essay on Woman" (1753) as reflecting a shift in view, Woody also claimed that practical education for females had many advocates before the Revolution. Woody's evidence challenges the notion that the Revolution changed attitudes regarding female education, although it may have accelerated earlier trends. Historians' reliance on Kerber's "republican motherhood" thesis may have obscured the presence of these trends, making it difficult to determine to what extent the Revolution really changed women's lives.