Friendships between men and women are usually regarded with suspicion, but Cassandra Good, associate editor of the Papers of James Monroe at the University of Mary Washington, discovered instances of genuine friendships between men and women hidden away in an unexpected time in history.
Good’s recently published book, “Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic,” draws on diaries, portraits and letters between men and women who lived in the early stages of the United States’ history and explores their relationships. Some of the relationships include familiar names: Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson wrote letters back and forth. George Washington corresponded with a woman named Elizabeth Powel, also through letters.
Good spent nearly a decade researching friendships between men and women from 1780 to 1830. She traveled to about two dozen archives and museums all over the east coast and read letters written by men and women to each other among other documents. Some prohibitions existed against writing letters to unrelated members of the opposite sex during the late 1700s and early 1800s, but Good found substantial material.
Friendships between elite men and women, such as the one between Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson, had political, social and personal benefits that were not romantic in nature, an idea that Good conveys in her book.
“I argue that elite men and women in the early American republic formed loving friendships that exemplified the key values of that period: equality, virtue, freedom and choice. These friendships were building blocks of new American systems of politics, gender, and power,” said Good, whose book was published by Oxford University Press.
Good aims to show that relationships between men and women are not always limited to marriage or romance. Friendship between men and women is not only possible, but it can be healthy, she said.
“The idea of companionate marriage—that a husband and wife should be friends—started in the period I write about, and with that arose the idea that marriage should be the central place for adults to fulfill emotional needs. I think both then and now we put too much weight on marriage as the pinnacle of fulfillment,” said Good. “I hope readers will consider how it takes many different relationships and types of love to support us and make us happy.”