Women of the American Revolution
This talk puts to rest another of the remarkable myths of the American Revolution: that it was an all male affair. Really? An 8 year home front war and American women didn’t notice it? In fact, the politicization of women in the 1760s and 1770s is one of the most striking consequences of the rebellion against British rule. Women made the boycotts of British imports work. They picketed merchants who dared to sell British cloth and tea. They produced homespun or “Liberty cloth” as they called it— willingly engaging in the single most boring task known to colonial America. Women wrote propaganda, from plays to poetry; they signed petitions — not as Mrs so-and-so, but with their own names, a fact that horrified conservative colonists everywhere; and in NYC, women signed a pledge not to marry any man who supported the Crown.
Once the war began, they took on the responsibility of farm, shop and business. And they did it despite the fact that they had babies, toddlers, and 5 or 6 other children to care for, despite the fact that essential supplies were cut off once the war began, despite the fact that their primary tasks as wives and daughters was household production of virtually everything a family needed, and despite the fact that both armies pillaged and raped their way through the land. If women hadn’t taken over male roles, there would have been nothing to come home to after the war. Women proved remarkably inventive in replacing missing supplies: creating corn liquor to replace Caribbean rum for the soldiers and replacing salt with walnut ash to preserve foods.
Valley Forge, Monmouth, etc. were not all male sites. Women and children flocked to the army each winter and transformed army camps into instant cities. Here they did the nursing, the cooking and the washing. Women served as spies, as couriers, and as soldiers. And let’s not forget all the Molly Pitchers in the forts. And after the war, how were they rewarded? Lots of praise but no legal or political rights. But a new ideology, Republican Motherhood, did arise and that proved in fact to be revolutionary. It said: a) women were capable of rational thought and could, surprise surprise, tell right from wrong (NOT a belief held in the 17th or early 18th century); b) women were the backbone of the republic because they could instill patriotism in the next generation. Women turned the ideology to good use: if we are to educate our sons and daughters, we need to be educated. And, thus for the first time schools were created for females. And, as we all know, education is a dangerous thing. It was the next generation who demanded equality.
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