Abstract: It is no secret to historians of the early republic that the Litchfield Law School was a significant institution. Arguably the first of its kind, the school trained a bevy of important state and national political figures. The Litchfield Female Academy is also well known to historians as one of the most successful and well-documented of the many postrevolutionary female academies. This essay focuses on the frequent social interactions between students and teachers from both schools and the elite residents of Litchfield, Connecticut, which spawned an expansive network of advice, information and patronage. The essay demonstrates that students relied on this vast pool of social capital to build their careers, especially in law and politics. Yet the power of the Litchfield network, and the value of the social capital it provided, waned amid a range of changes in social and political life during the nineteenth century. In the broadest sense, this essay uses the two Litchfield schools to explore the relationship between gender, elite formation, and political change during the early republic. It contributes to a growing literature that illustrates the importance of networks to the construction of social and political power in the period. But it also shows that the value of a given network was constrained by changing social and political contexts.
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press
Published: Nov 24, 2014