Women and the American Revolution Discussion (March 1998)


Query From Mary Furbee swpub@access.mountain.net 03 March 1998

For those with appropriate interest and expertise: I'd be curious to know which women of the American Revolution (Top 5?), you consider the most "historically significant." Very subjective, that word important...I'd appreciate your thoughts.

[Ed. Note: See also Women and the American Revolution H-Net WWW Site Disc/ Nov 1997 on the H-women website: http://h-net.msu.edu/~women]

Responses:

From Lisa Connelly Cook LCC11@aol.com 08 March 1998

Important Woman of the American Revolution:

Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814), wrote satirical plays, corresponded with important men and women of the day, published anti-federalist arguments against ratification of the Constitution, and published a three volume history of the revolution at the age of 77. She justified a woman's entering the world of politics (even if anonymously and privately!) as an extension of religious virtue, arguing that if it was good for a woman to join in discussions of religious principles, it was good for a woman to join in discussions of politics, since, as she saw it, religious principles were the foundation of politics. Guess she was a little disappointed in the way things turned out after the Revolution.

From Linda Grant De Pauw

MinervaCen MinervaCen@aol.com 08 March 1998

Margaret Kemble Gage, American wife of the military governor of Boston and Patriot informer, who told of the plan to attack Concord in April 1775 and was then banished to England.

Peggy Shippen Arnold who turned the loyalty of her husband Benedict Arnold, perhaps the greatest general of the early years of the war, convincing him to betray the American cause.

Mary Brant for her influence in the Iroquois confederacy which kept the western tribes loyal to George III. A British agent said of her "one word from her goes farther with them [the Iroquois] than a thousand from any white man without exception."

Mercy Otis Warren, for her political activism from the first meetings of the Committee of Correspondence, which met in her home, through her authorship of a multi-volume history of the Revolution giving an insider's view.

Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, a soldier's widow buried in an unmarked grave, who in 1876 was claimed as the true incarnation of the legendary heroine Molly Pitcher who was said to have relieved her husband at an artillery position at the Battle of Monmouth. Proving that myth is more powerful than history, this woman, reinterred beneath a monument in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is the best known female military figure in American history. Her actual service during the Revolution is not documented -- her obituary said nothing about Monmouth or a cannon. The only surviving contemporary evidence -- an 1822 news story --said she wore male clothing and was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine.

From Mary Furbee <swpub@access.mountain.net> 08 March 1998 RE [Mary Beth Norton's post mbn1@cornell.edu]

>>>Significant at the time? or significant later?

>That is, Deborah Sampson Gannett (who disguised herself as a man & >enlisted in the army & later made a living as a lecturer discussing her >experiences) was actually rather unimportant during the war but became an important >icon & cultural bellwether later. So too women who kept diaries during the >war were certainly not prominent at the time but those diaries have been very >important to historians--I refer here, most notably, to three >Philadelphians: Elizabeth Drinker, Sarah (Sally) Logan Fisher, and Grace >Growden Galloway.
>
>As for important during the Rev itself, I'd list 3 most prominently: >
>Mercy Otis Warren: for her prev-rev. pamphlets and later her HISTORY (the >first written by a woman & one of the first histories of the Rev) >
>Esther DeBerdt Reed: for organizing the Philadelphia Ladies Assn in the >summer of 1780 (and trying to form a nationwide organization), the first >formal large scale secular organization of American women for a political >purpose and

>Abigail Adams: for her remarkable correspondence and perceptive, >forward-looking interpretation of events and insistence that women be >included in the revolutionary project.

Greetings: I've read Liberty's Daughter and your other books, and they've been very helpful to me. It's great to hear your thoughts. Yes, I meant during the Revolution itself, as opposed to important to historians.

I haven't heard, by the way, of Sally Fisher.

I teach journalism at West Virginia University (writing) and write nonfiction for adults and children. I'm working on a children's book about
the Revolutionary period; hence my query. The publisher I'm working with wants me to dwell on "mostly well-known, but also historically important, women."

However, I find many of the lesser-known women (Sarah Bache, Penelope Barker, Mary Brant, Elizabeth Drinker and a host of others) more interesting and important than more well-known women (M. Washington, Betsy Ross, Captain Molly). So determining who to focus on (yet please this publisher) has been a real challenge.

The three women in your second list -- Abigail Adams, Mercy Warren and Esther DeBerdt Reed -- are in my top five list, as well. The first two were givens, but Reed was harder to decide about. So I find it interesting you included her. Also, it's harder to find biographical information on her --from her childhood and pre-Association/Revolution years. Of course, I've just begun looking.