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Women and the american revolution article review

Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice. Scholars now recognize that women were actively engaged in the debates that accompanied the movement toward independence, and that after the war many sought a more expansive political role for themselves.

Granted, those women who wanted a more active and unmediated relationship to the body politic faced severe legal and ideological obstacles. The common law system of coverture gave married women no control over their bodies or to property, and thus accorded them no formal venue to express their political opinions. Many observers characterized women as essentially selfish and frivolous creatures who hungered after luxuries and could not contain their carnal appetites.

Nevertheless, some women carved out political roles for themselves.

  • A cursory glance at the biographies of individual women says a great deal in this regard;
  • The Embargo act was controversial, but the controversy was played out in a male political arena;
  • Women were born for universal sway; Men to adore, be silent, and obey.

In the lead up to the war, many women played active, even essential roles in various non-consumption movements, promising to refrain from purchasing English goods, and attacking those merchants who refused to boycott prohibited goods. Some took to the streets, participating in riots that periodically disturbed the tranquility of colonial cities.

A few published plays and poems proclaiming their patriotic views. Those women, who would become loyalists, were also active, never reluctant, to express their disapproval of the protest movement.

During the war, many women demonstrated their loyalty to the patriot cause by shouldering the burdens of absent husbands. They managed farms and businesses. First in Philadelphia, and then in other cities, women went from door to door collecting money for the Continental Army. Some accompanied husbands to the battlefront, where they tended to the material needs of soldiers.

A very few disguised themselves as men and joined the army, exposing as a lie the notion that only men had the capacity to sacrifice their lives for the good of the country. Loyalist women continued to express their political views, even though doing so brought them little more than physical suffering and emotional pain.

Sheila L. Skemp

African American women took advantage of wartime chaos to run away from their masters and forge new, independent lives for themselves. After the war, women marched in parades, lobbied and petitioned legislators, attended sessions of Congress, and participated in political rallies—lending their support to particular candidates or factions.

Elite women published novels, poems, and plays.

  1. Consequently, while she argued that women could hold office or lead armies, she did not believe they should do so, unless they had no other choice.
  2. War reinforced gender differences, reminding everyone that the battlefield was a male preserve, an arena in which men risked everything and thereby earned the adulation of their countrymen.
  3. However, an American victory ensured their way of life was coming to an end. The traditional order did not collapse.

Some hosted salons where men and women gathered to discuss political issues. In New Jersey, single property-owning women voted. Still, white, middle class women in particular took advantage of better educational opportunities, finding ways to influence the public sphere without demanding formal political rights.

They read, wrote, and organized benevolent societies, laying the groundwork for the antebellum reform movements of the mid-19th century. Politics, citizenship, and voting were so linked in the minds of then modern Americans that few imagined disfranchised women as political actors. Beginning in the 1980s, however, historians began to re-examine their understanding of what it meant to be a political person, or, in the era of the American Revolution, to be a patriot or a loyalist.

Instead of simply assuming that views of political activity were the same in the 18th century as they are modern times, scholars looked at the past anew, defining political activity within a distinctly historical context. The results of that endeavor—which remain open ended and contested—introduced historians to a world that was profoundly different from their own. No one denies that women before, during, and after the Revolution faced severe limits to their ability to act as political beings.

Nor does anyone deny that even the most self-consciously public-spirited women defined their relationship to the state in ways that differed from the experiences of men. Indeed, white women were actually losing political power throughout the 18th century. In the 17th century, social standing, not gender identity, was the key determinant for the distribution of political rights. In England, under certain circumstances, aristocratic women could vote and hold office.

In America, no one questioned the right of an elite woman to express her opinions on political issues and to exercise authority over lower class men. By the 18th century, gender had become more important than status. In virtually every arena, women, simply by virtue of their sex, were excluded from formal—and even informal—political activity. The husband represented his wife to the outside world. He controlled her work and her body, made all political decisions, and controlled any property his wife brought to the marriage.

Because the ownership of property was the prime requisite for political rights at the time, if a woman had no property, she had no political existence. He might exercise his power with a light hand, discussing politics with his wife and even listening to her views, but the decision to do so was his alone.

Legally speaking, at least, women had only one right, the right to choose a spouse. It was not the law alone that relegated white women—even if they were single—to a women and the american revolution article review status. Many continued to use the story of Eve to prove that women were enslaved to their passions and their sexual desires. They were fickle and frivolous, and above all irrational, and thus not suited to make the decisions that a healthy polity required.

At least some men could sacrifice their own interests to support the public good. How then could women call themselves patriots if they were too weak to resist their penchant for luxuries, even when the national interest demanded it?

The evidence nevertheless indicates that, despite the limitations they faced, women seldom ignored the political issues of the day. This was especially true in the era of the American Revolution.

  1. A few defied gender conventions altogether, joining the Continental Army disguised as men. Actress, novelist, and playwright Susanna Rowson was a partial exception to that rule.
  2. They also could lobby lawmakers and could sign the same petitions and make the same political decisions made by their male counterparts. African American women took advantage of wartime chaos to run away from their masters and forge new, independent lives for themselves.
  3. Norton documented the many ways that women engaged in political debates throughout the Revolutionary era. Women, too, made sacrifices throughout the war, but their sacrifices were taken for granted and seldom noticed.
  4. Although she longed to be taken seriously, she desired influence, not power.

In what sorts of political activities did they engage? What activities remained closed to them? What, if anything, changed? Clearly the answers to those questions vary. Elite, white women like their male counterparts were more likely to reap the benefits of revolutionary change than were lower class white or African American women, especially in terms of their ability to influence the male political world. Urban women had more options than their counterparts in rural America.

Quakers accorded women more authority than did other denominations. New England women were, as a whole, more literate and had more access to education than did their southern sisters. The vast majority still could not vote. Those few who were enfranchised quickly lost that right. Nor were women able to hold political office, even at the local level. Nevertheless, they were never divorced from the world outside the home, and they often expressed their views publicly.

  • The plight of Native American women is addressed in Chapter Seven;
  • As fighting approached, there were no safe havens;
  • However, the majority of African-Americans remained slaves and their plight did not improve.

Even post-war women who had no interest in politics defined themselves as members of the republic, as rights-bearing citizens who were proud to be patriotic actors. Some declared their independence from abusive husbands, pursuing their own versions of happiness. Others took control of their bodies, limiting the number of children they brought into the world. White, middle class girls attended the growing number of female academies, asserting that they were rational beings who were able to make reasoned political decisions.

They read, they wrote, they published, they formed literary societies, improving their own lives as well as the lives of less fortunate members of society. Elite women hosted salons where they discussed the political issues of the day, creating a sociable environment that softened the rough edges of cantankerous politicians.

Colonial women surely cared about public affairs. They had opinions about the Great Awakening, the French and Indian War, and the political quarrels that erupted over local issues in individual provinces. They were interested, as wives, mothers, daughters, even as humans, in the world outside the home. But this time it was somewhat different.

  • Their contributions were accepted because women emphasized their traditionally feminine attributes as sociable human beings who were adept at cultivating civility and reforming the manners of the men who in fact ruled the world;
  • Granted, those women who wanted a more active and unmediated relationship to the body politic faced severe legal and ideological obstacles;
  • Some had run businesses, operated farms, and taken care of their families, proving that they need not be dependent upon their husbands;
  • The answers to those questions varied, but they did reveal that gender definitions were in flux.

This time, a political structure controlled by men appealed directly to women for support, giving them a role to play in the drama that led to the American Revolution. Some women supported the protest movements that led ultimately to independence. Others opposed those same movements, remaining loyal to the King, fearing the chaos and disruption they believed would result if the ties binding the Empire together were broken.

In either case, many women were becoming engaged in the public issues of the day. Women made most household purchases. Thus they had to be persuaded to refrain from indulging in English luxury items and depend instead on their own spinning and weaving to produce homespun for their families.

They would not, of course, engage in formal political activity, but the choices they made in the domestic realm would, by definition, become political.

Women responded to the challenge.

Women and Politics in the Era of the American Revolution

In 1774, fifty-one women in Edenton, North Carolina went even further, signing such an agreement, specifically claiming to do so in the name of the public good, thus declaring that they understood and cared about the implications of the political debates swirling about them.

Single women acted still more forcefully. In 1765, five Philadelphia women shopkeepers signed a non-importation agreement, signaling their opposition to the Stamp Act. As single property owners they were legally able to act politically—not as producers of cloth or consumers of manufactured goods, but as members of the mercantile community.

A few already had some political authority. They also could lobby lawmakers and could sign the same petitions and make the same political decisions made by their male counterparts.

Mercy Otis Warren, sister of James Otis and wife of James Warren, also picked up her pen to support the patriot cause. The play urged colonists to be on their guard against a leader who would stop at nothing to achieve his ends. Nevertheless, if many women were—like their male counterparts—indifferent to the issues dividing England and America, many others began to think politically. Some disdained the movement toward independence, refusing to sign non-consumption agreements, defiantly drinking British tea, and declaring their continued loyalty to the Crown.

Others made sacrifices for the rights of colonial Americans, even if they did not seem to recognize that their own rights were very limited.

If citizens were to demand rights, they had to perform the duties that accompanied those rights. From this perspective, women were excluded from any claims to citizenship, for no one expected a woman to pick up a musket to fight for the King or to defend American liberties.

Nothing divided men from women more than the onset of war. War reinforced gender differences, reminding everyone that the battlefield was a male preserve, an arena in which men risked everything and thereby earned the adulation of their countrymen.

Women, too, made sacrifices throughout the war, but their sacrifices were taken for women and the american revolution article review and seldom noticed. They lost husbands and brothers, fathers and sons. They fended for themselves when men left home to fight.

In This Article

White, middle class women, in particular, made ends meet at a time when inflation put the barest necessities out of reach. They struggled to manage family businesses and farms, fending off creditors, disciplining recalcitrant slaves or servants, and making financial decisions.

Many floundered, failed, and ended up living off the charity of family or friends. Many African American women seized upon wartime activity to declare their own independence, running away from their masters, fleeing either to the British army, to Canada, or to American cities where they could blend in with the free black population.