During the American Revolution, many women took on new roles in society. They participated in the war effort, both on the battlefield and at home. And they became more vocal in their advocacy for independence and equality.
One of the most famous women of the Revolutionary era was Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man and served in the Continental Army. She was not the only woman to serve in the military during the Revolution; many others served as nurses, cooks, and laundresses.
At home, women took on new responsibilities as well. With their husbands away at war, they had to manage farms and businesses. They also had to care for their families and homes. In some cases, they even took up arms to defend their homes from British troops.
As the Revolution progressed, many women became more involved in the political process. They circulated petitions, lobbied for change, and spoke out against injustice. Some even participated in boycotts of British goods.
The American Revolution had a profound impact on the lives of women. It changed the way they thought about themselves and their place in society. And it paved the way for future generations of women to fight for their rights.
In the introduction of her book, Revolutionary Mothers, Carol Berkin argues that although there were no significant changes in gender roles for most women during the American Revolution, it did legitimize new beliefs about women’s capabilities. (Berkin 2005) It is debatable how much progress has been made since then particularly regarding economic and political equality–but it is certain that the revolution did not bring true parity between men and women.
In order to explore this concept, the book is divided into three sections which are The Radicals, The Moderates, and The Conservatives. Through these sections, Berkin demonstrates how each group of women responded to the American Revolution.
The first section looks at women who were influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. These women were more likely to be from the urban areas and were part of the middle or upper class. They believed in natural rights and that all people were created equal. Abigail Adams is one example of a woman in this category. She was highly educated and her husband was a lawyer and a politician. She was very involved in the political process and even though she did not have the right to vote she used her influence to try to encourage her husband and other men to give women more rights.
The second section looks at women who were influenced by traditional ideas about gender roles. These women were more likely to be from the rural areas and were part of the lower or middle class. They believed that men and women had different roles to play in society and that it was important for each person to stick to their own role.
Betty Reed is one example of a woman in this category. She was a farmer’s wife and she did not have much formal education. She believed that her role was to take care of her family and her home. She did not get involved in the political process but she did support the Patriot cause.
The third section looks at women who were influenced by the Loyalist point of view. These women were more likely to be from the urban areas and were part of the upper class. They believed that the best way to keep order in society was to have a monarchy and they did not believe in natural rights. Ann Smith is one example of a woman in this category. She was highly educated and her husband was a wealthy merchant. She believed that it was important for women to stay out of politics and she did not support the Patriot cause.
Even though the American Revolution did not bring equality for all women, it did lend legitimacy to new ideas about women’s capacities and their proper roles. This book is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about the role of women in the American Revolution.
The change in legal status has been immeasurable, yet it seems that some things never do. Educational opportunities have broadened for all genders, but much of our popular vernacular reveals an alarming truth: gender inequality is still verymuch alive and well. Take, for example, the phrase “you throw like a girl” which is used to describe poor physical performance. To crudely state subordination, one need only make another their “bitch”.
During the American Revolution, women were in many ways relegated to the background. But even in this traditional role they played an important part in the Patriot cause. While their husbands and sons marched off to war, they ran businesses, raised families and kept the home fires burning. They also took on new roles, such as spying and carrying messages for the resistance. In some cases, they even fought alongside the men.
One of the most famous examples of a woman fighting during the Revolutionary War is Deborah Sampson. Disguising herself as a man, she enlisted in the Continental Army and served for over 17 months before being discovered and honorably discharged.
While not all women took up arms, all were affected by the war. Many, like Sampson, were widowed by the conflict. Others lost their homes and possessions when the British burned entire towns to the ground. Still others were left to fend for themselves and their families while their husbands were away at war.
The American Revolution changed the lives of all women, even if their role in the conflict was largely hidden from history. These “revolutionary mothers” helped to win the war and laid the foundation for a new nation where all men (and eventually women) would be considered equal.
Female independence is commonly regarded as a sign of inferiority. While women now have the right to vote, it’s worth noting that only 20% of the senators in the US Senate are female. Look at Fortune 500 CEOs and you’ll see just 24 female CEOs. (Fairchild 2014) It is well-known that whereas women are legally entitled to their pay, they receive 82 cents on the male dollar and even lower rates for women of color. (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014) So even with education and legal rights, women are still fighting for their social and economic independence.
The book Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the American Revolution, by Carolyn Paine Nystrom focuses on the role of women during the American Revolution. Nystrom argues that the Revolution was as much about gender as it was about politics. (Nystrom 2005)
She states that “the Patriots were not only trying to overthrow British rule; they were also attempting to overthrow what they viewed as the tyrannical rule of men over women.” (Nystrom 2005) The Patriots saw British rule as patriarchal and oppressive and they wanted to create a society where men and women were equal.
The problem that the Patriots faced was that they were trying to create a society that was based on equality but they were also fighting a war. They could not risk having their wives and daughters out in the streets fighting alongside them so they had to find a way to keep them safe. The answer that they came up with was to create female auxiliaries. These auxiliaries were groups of women who supported the Patriot cause but did not take up arms. They did things like sew clothes for the soldiers, cook for them, and tended to their needs when they were injured. (Nystrom 2005)
While these auxiliaries were important, they were not seen as equals to the men who were fighting. The problem was that the Patriotic ideology of equality was not matched by the reality of war. The Patriotic ideology said that men and women were equal but the reality was that men were fighting and dying for the cause while women were staying home.
The auxiliaries did the best they could to support the Patriot cause but they were not able to change the fact that they were seen as inferior to the men who were fighting. This is not to say that the Revolution was a failure for women, it was not. The Revolution gave women a taste of equality and autonomy that they had never experienced before. It also showed them that they could make a difference in the world even if they were not taking up arms.