Pre revolutionary period was a period of woman controversies where on one hand they, the women, were totally traditional with limited roles while on the other hand they were influenced by revolutionary spirit. The revolution brought drastic change in the life styles of women. Women before the Revolutionary War were only involved in domestic activities like taking care of the house, cooking, taking care of children, cleaning and were restricted to husband’s likes and dislikes. Additionally, they were not considered as superior members of the society and had suppressed rights. The American Revolution, 1775-1783, brought a new turn in the lives of women. While the men were engaged in the war, the women took care of the horses, delivered messages, went hunting, were involved in carpentering, worked as black smiths and even adopted ship building to maintain a normal living. They even looked after sick soldiers and even turned their own houses into nursing homes; and they also helped their husbands and fathers at war. This changed living styles of women, which is even found today in America, where women go out doing jobs in offices, achieving higher education in Universities, at times doing several jobs and hence have attained a high place in the society. This was achieved after a campaign against slavery and women suffrage movement.
The social norms of the time did not permit the women to participate in the revolutionary war yet the patriotic women from North Carolina declared that they would put in all their efforts to this national cause. In Philadelphia, they arranged a fund raising program to help the American continental army. Several women, including Benjamin Franklin’s daughter Sarah Franklin Bache and Esther Deberdt Reed, participated in the military side of the war. They went from door to door to ask women to team up and together they raised $300,000 for the continental soldiers.
Many women took part in protecting their homes and families from the attacks and even assisted their husbands at war. For instance, Mary Ludwig Hays, nick named Molly Pitcher, carried water for the American soldiers and even took over the husband’s canon after his death. She was made a sergeant by General Washington. Betty Zane carried gun powder and other supplies to the colonial forces. In 1775, in East Hartford Connecticut, a group of twenty women called “The Corps of Female Infantry” marched into a shop and took away 218 pounds of sugar for the supplies of the soldiers. Margaret Cochran Corbin fought seriously in the war and was also severely wounded and was everlastingly disabled. She fought beside her husband and took over his job as a matross when he died. She was the initial to obtain pension for life because of her bravery and wounds. Another woman, Mary Catherine Goddard was the first official to print and copy the declaration of independence and got it distributed throughout the colonies.
Native American women had to face many difficult social circumstances specially, in sexual segregation. They were given very low status and were made to sit separately from men while eating and were not given any position or power. Amongst many of the women who played an important part in the American Revolution, Mercy Otis Warren and Deborah Sampson are also worth mentioning.
Mercy Otis Warren, sister of the Massachusetts leader James Otis, turned her home into a center of Patriot political activity and published a series of satires supporting the American cause and scorning the Loyalists. (Faragher, Buhle and Czitrom) She was a propagandized, a political writer and became famous as a public figure in the political arena. She believed in independence, liberty and the power of written words. Since she was a patriotic writer she displayed patriotism through her poems and plays and provoked deep patriotic feelings in the people. Mercy was the wife of James Warren, who was the speaker and a representative of the Massachusetts house. Warren’s play “Adulateur” was stunning and aroused the women during the revolution. Another play “The Group” foretold about the Tories and her essays encouraged support of women’s role in the war.
She was known as the conscience of the American Revolution and was also the first woman writer to convey her message to the women who had no knowledge about the history of the American Revolutionary war. She also influenced the women and made them aware about their rights in the society. Her book of three volumes “History of the Rise Progress and Termination of the American Revolution” was the first book ever written on the history of the revolution. Legacy left behind by Mercy Otis Warren is “Seldom has one woman in any age, acquired such an ascendancy over the strongest, by the mere force of a powerful intellect. She is said to have supplied political parties with their arguments; and she was the first of her sex in America who taught the reading world in matters of state policy and history.” (Kline and Pavao)
Another courageous woman who played an important role is, Deborah Sampson of Massachusetts dressed as a man and enlisted in the militia, she was awarded a pension by the Continental Congress. She was the subject of a sensational biography after the war and became the first American women to embark on a lecture tour. (Faragher, Buhle and Czitrom) She looked after her family farm and later on joined the American Army disguised as a man to show her patriotism for the country. She even changed her name to “Robert Shurtliff” when she joined the Washington Army. In 1782 she was enlisted in George Web’s company of the Massachusetts regiment. She took part in several battles in 1783 and even assisted General John Peterson at West point. She got wounded in the 1783 war and hid her wounds, even treated herself. She pulled out the bullet from her leg and tied a tight bandage around her chest to hide her identity. Later on, she fell seriously ill where her identity was discovered by her physician. For this reason, she was discharged from the army and even awarded veterans pension. She returned to the Massachusetts where she decided to get married.
Furthermore, Abigail Adams, like her husband John, was also one who aided the American Revolution. She proposed to the new government to defend and augment women’s rights. She kept on convincing her husband John Adams to be more desirable and favorable towards the rights of the ladies of her time, in her letter saying “Remember the Ladies”, but her husband never took this seriously. During the War she offered the soldiers food and shelter. When her husband left for England during the war, she also travelled later in order to host both the social and political get-togethers for him.
Equally important it was due to the efforts of the women, that the boycott of the British goods was successful in America. As the result of this boycott, the English merchants pleaded to their government as their profits were dropping. Women worked in homes and made their own clothes which were worn with pride publically and became a sign that they were indeed “daughter of liberty”. From Edenton, North Carolina, to Boston, Massachusetts, the ladies publically announced that they will not consume tea and any other British imports until the loathed laws were annulled.
During the war also the women worked as spies, risking their lives and being captured as they rode through the enemy territories in order to deliver messages and warnings to their soldiers of the attacks. A middle-aged Quaker woman of Philadelphia, Lydia Darragh, warned the troops of Washington about a fatal surprise attack in 1776. Furthermore Sybil Luddington, a teenager from New York, rode at night to gather her father’s militia troops to defend Connecticut from the enemies. African American women also played their roles in the American Revolution, like Mammy Kate, a slave woman, planned and successfully carried out her master Stephen Heard’s escape, as he was suffering in a British Prison, waiting for his death sentence. (Berkin)
As the war proceeded and the men went off to fight, women who stayed back took care of all that was left behind, managing farms, shops apart from all household chores and child-care. Women even devised substitutes for the supplies that were scarce, such as walnut ash was used instead of salt for the winter meat, recipes of homemade soups were passed around, the traditional rum was replaced by corn liquor and rye whiskey all produced by women themselves. They served these items to the soldiers passing by in order to show their support. (Berkin)
Martha Washington also known as “Lady Washington” joined the army as a camp follower to take care of her husband, General Washington. Moreover she hosted at the camp and also took care of the soldiers enrolled in the war. Phillis Wheatley, the woman who was the first African-American poet who got her poems published; sturdily supported the Revolutionary War. She used her poetry writing skills to persuade the people on the matter of slavery that estranged the whites from being true heroes. Her vision on slavery can be understood clearly through her poem “On being brought from Africa to America”. She herself became a part of the slave trade so that she could convince people to understand this cruel practice through her poetry. The letter that she wrote to Reverend Samson Occom on February 11th, 1774, contains statements that show her strong feelings towards anti-slavery.
Grace and Rachel Martin are two sisters, who attacked British officers by surprise and stole the documents they were delivering. These women despised the way the British acted toward the women and children at that time. They found out that a courier was delivering British documents to South Carolina, so they planned to bring those documents to the Patriots. They disguised as men using their husbands’ clothes and pistols and waited in the dark. They stopped the officers by surprise and without the use of any fire arms they had, were able to obtain what they wanted. By the use of their intelligence, courage, clever disguise and the surprise tactic they were successful in their mission.
Even though women played an important role during the American Revolution, yet they were not given proper legal and political status after the War was won. Ladies who were married lost their legal autonomy, and gender discrimination was still at the rise. It took decades before the women got their rights, after the intellectuals and reformers debated on the issue known as “the woman question”. Judith Murray of Massachusetts proposed arguments for women’s academic and ethical fairness, which was again presented by reformers Grimke sisters and Elizabeth Cady Stanton during the 1830s and 1840s.
It was during the 1780s and 1790s when the women were given thorough and proper education in subjects consisting of history and political philosophy. The main reason for this change was the intention that the women will be able to groom their sons properly at home. This was totally unexpected but it helped in initiating gender revolution in the lives of the Americans. Many of the men who were keen to create honorable citizens for the new republic, were prepared to invest great amount of money in founding educational institutions for the women, so when they grow up and become mothers they are able to instill patriotism in their offspring. Though the limit that they had to stay within domestic sphere was there, this idea of achieving higher education played an important part in early woman’s activities.
- Faragher, John Mack, et al. Out of Many: A History of the American People. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2012. 153. Print.
- Mathews, Glenna. American Revolution. Oxford University Press, 2000. eLibrary. Web. 3 April 2013.
- Berkin, Carol. ""It Was I Who Did It": Women's Role in the Founding of the Nation." Phi Kappa Phi Forum. 01 Jul. 2006: 15. eLibrary. Web. 03 Apr. 2013.
- Zitek, Carl. “Women in the American Revolution”. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. < http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/score_lessons/women_american_revolution/>
- Courtney, Gillian and Ranger, Park. “Contributions of Women During the American Revolution”. Stoney Point Battlefield State Historic Site. 12 March 1999. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. < http://www2.lhric.org/spbattle/wohist.html>
- Kline, Pamela and Pavao, Paul. “Mercy Otis Warren”. Revolutionary-War.net. Web. 03 Apr. 2013. < http://www.revolutionary-war.net/mercy-otis-warren.html>