Document Type

Open Access Article

Publication Date

2007

Abstract

As a small county-seat town in rural southwest Arkansas, Arkadelphia seems far from the kind of place that would have any connection to a court case with international ramifications. Nor does it, despite its two colleges, seem to be the kind of place that would have any connection to a court case involving art—particularly art looted from Germany toward the end of World War II. Nor does it seem likely that it would play a part in a long- running discussion about the source of virtue in American life. And yet, as improbable as it seems, all those things are true.

Americans have certainly always believed that virtue is a feminine domain. As late as 1920, when women finally gained the right to vote, Americans on both sides of the “Suffrage Question,” as most called it, used the same fact in support of their differing views. Each side agreed that women possessed more natural virtue, with those favoring female suffrage arguing that women would elevate the tone of politics while those opposing argued that women’s natural virtue unfit them for understanding and engaging in politics. Whatever virtue society might have could be traced to female influence. Not only were women more religious than men (though in most Protestant circles women could hold no church office, and were only “commissioned” to such service on the foreign mission field), but also they were more attuned to the fine arts. Women, not men, undertook a “finishing school” education where they studied music and painting. Women were more fitted for polite society thereby, and it was this understanding and appreciation of the arts that thrust upon them the role of social arbiter and therefore the responsibility for elevating society’s tone.[See Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1977) for insights into this phenomenon.]

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