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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Women of Revolution

Today, Americans celebrate Independence Day. It’s a time for waving flags, marching in parades, and eating grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. We speak about our Founding Fathers and the sacrifices they made. We don’t hear very much about the women.
How it started: Spurred by what the colonists considered unjustly levied taxes on imported tea, the British commanders in the colonies and the colonists came to an impasse. The colonists rebelled and dumped the tea that was waiting to be off loaded into Boston Harbor (the Boston Tea Party). The British Prime Minister, Lord North, passed a series of laws in retaliation, the Intolerable Acts, which resulted in the American Revolution.  
Loyalists and Rebels: Some people sides with the British and others with the colonists. Women of the day did not, for the most part, hold jobs but were responsible for the household. But the feelings and activities of the revolution permeated political, civil, and domestic life. Some women stayed loyal to the Crown. Other women rebelled by boycotting British goods, spying on the British, following and working with the army, and some even fighting,
Organizers: Women organized various associations to help the war effort. Esther Deberdt Reed (wife of the Pennsylvania Governor), Sarah Franklin Bache (daughter of Benjamin Franklin), in Philadelphia, collected funds which Martha Washington took to her husband, General George Washington. Women in other states followed their example and raised over $340,000 for the American war effort.
Sarah Franklin Bache
Esther Deberdt Reed
Baggage: Other women, whose men went off to war, were left the hardship of holding onto their homes and protecting their families with little help. Many of these women were easy prey for marauding soldiers. Some women refused to stay behind and followed the army. The commanding officers called these women “necessary nuisances” and “baggage.” But these women played an important role, too. They served the soldiers and officers as wash women, cooks, nurses, seamstresses, supply scavengers, sexual partners and even prostitutes.
Margaret Corbin
Fighters: There were women who did not follow the army but joined the army, some disguised as men. Some, like Anna Maria Land and Margaret Corbin, did it to be near their man and others, like Anne Bailey (under the name of Samuel Gay) and Anne Smith, joined for the enlistment bounty, money for enlisting. Several women, Deborah Samson and Hannah Snell, were able to hide their gender and were given honorable discharges from the service.
Spies: There were women who acted as couriers and rode through enemy lines carrying documents and letters under their petticoats. Deborah Champion, Sara Decker, and Harriet Prudence Patterson Hall all managed to sneak documents past the British.
Abigail Adams
Not Quite Equal: The ideals of liberty, equality, and independence the Founding Fathers professed didn’t impact women. Women continued to be associated with home and hearth and they were not welcome in politics. They confined their political views to their personal writings. Only a few, like Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren became public figures. But the woman’s role held importance none the less. It was the woman’s role to pass on the ideals of independence to their children so it would prosper, grow, and become part of the very fabric of the colonist’s lives.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Power of the Female Pen: One woman would be looked upon by President Lincoln as “…the little woman who made this great war.” He was speaking of the American Civil War and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her story, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ignited a spark in the North while she indicted slavery in the south. Her story sold over 300,000 copies in America and Britain which may represent only 1/10 of the audience it really reached. She definitely demonstrates the power of the pen.  There is a great review by Andrew Delbanco, director of American studies at Columbia, of David S. Reynold’s newly released book, Mightier Than the Sword, in this Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Book review.  

Tomorrow, Americans celebrate Independence Day. It’s a time for waving flags, marching in parades, and eating grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. It’s also a great day to relax and read a book. Who knows, it could change the world.


Denise Pattison said...


I enjoyed your post. So often women get lost in history where they've played an important part. We have so few to hold up as examples for our children, especially our daughters.

My granddaughter had a hard time trying to think of someone to write about for her homework. I was stunned. Don't they teach our children about the women who have shaped history? Of course not, women still don't count--not enough, not yet but soon, I keep telling myself, soon.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Great post. Years and years ago I borrowed a book from the library which I wish I'd never given back...lol. It was called "The Revolution Remembered," I think. Anyway, in like 1820, congress voted to give the war vets a pension, but to get it they had to list their commanding officers, unit, etc. Many of the vets also wrote detailed accounts of their service. All these accounts are in the National Archives and the auhthor of the book culled the archives and put together the book with some of the reports.

Two of the stories detailed women. One of the women 'followed the drum,' with her husband and was granted a pension. The other woman's story was very fasinating in that her first husband (a vet) married a second wife without ever divorcing her. After she heard that, she married again, too. Her second husband was also a vet, so she got both their penisons.

I really do wish I'd kept that book!

Debby Lee said...

That was a very educational article Ruth, thanks for posting it. I think it's so cool that women were able to contribute so much even though they had almost no legal rights. Women have so many more rights these days, so just think, to what heights may we aspire to. Thanks again for sharing.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Hi Ruth,

I love the way women were able to work during the war even if it was behind the scenes or secretly. When my Mom was doing research she ran across an ancestor of ours that warned George Washington of an ambush. She overheard the plans through a heat vent. Several of the British commandeered her home and she told them she had to buy flour to make them bread. Instead she got the message to the right people. I thought that was quite exciting and think it might make a storyline in a books some day.

Ruth A Casie said...

@Denise Pattison
@Anna Kathryn Lanier
@Debbie Lee
@Paisley Kirkpatrick

Thank you for your comments. I found it startling as a teenager that women's rights were 'so new.' I've grown up in a home where equal rights were a given.

The more I research, the more I'm astounded the way women have accommodated and surmounted the issues at hand. We are creative, determined, and will not be held back.

I think that's why I write time travel adventures. My heroine goes back in time with her 21st century views and abilities and shows everyone just what she is capable of.

Thanks again for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.