Charlene M. Boyer Lewis is a professor of history and the director of the American studies program at Kalamazoo College. She specializes in women's history, southern history, and American cultural and social history in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She is the author of Ladies and Gentlemen on Display: Planter Society at the Virginia Springs, 1790–1860 (2001), which focuses on the creation of southern planter identity at Virginia mountain resorts, and Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte: An American Aristocrat in the Early Republic (2012), which examines one woman's active role in the debates over society and culture in the early republic. Her next project is a study of Peggy Shippen Arnold and revolutionary America.
This lecture examines the impact and influence of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, who had wed Napoleon's youngest brother, on the society and politics of the new American nation. With her notorious behavior, dashing husband, and associations with European royalty, she became one of America's first celebrities during a crucial moment when the character of American society and politics was not yet fully formed. Many Americans feared the corrupting influence of European manners and ideas on their new republic. Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte's imperial connections and aristocratic aspirations made her a central figure in these debates over society and culture, with many, including members of Congress and the social elites of the day, regarding her as a threat.