Thomas Jefferson: virtuous widower, child molester or multicultural icon for his relationship with Sally Hemings?
Our founding fathers were a complicated bunch, and their sex lives make them even more so, according to a new book by Thomas Foster, professor of history at DePaul University. Foster will visit Connecticut College to discuss “Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past,” on Thursday Sept. 25, at 4:30 p.m. in Room 014 of Olin Science Center.
“Our society is obsessed with sex in so many ways and yet rarely do we take the time to seriously consider why that is and how that influences our view of topics — in the present and the past,” said Jen Manion, associate professor of history and director of the College’s LGBTQ Resource Center, one of the event sponsors. “Many put the founding fathers of American democracy on a pedestal, as if they weren't human beings with real strengths and flaws. Tom's book lets us see the personal side of their lives.”
The book examines how views of sex have changed throughout time by tracing the intimate lives of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, as well as Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and Gouverneur Morris. Foster shows how continual attempts to reveal the true character of these men instead exposes much more about Americans and American culture than about the Founders themselves, showing how each generation uses them to reshape and reinforce American civic and national identity.
“People will have their view of American history turned upside down,” said Manion of Foster’s talk. “The history of sexuality is such an exciting field because we study very familiar topics — such as American Presidents — in entirely new ways and sometimes what you find out is entirely surprising.”