Feminists and the American Revolution


(Due to several queries along the same lines, I have combined the two threads. M.E. Raymond)

First Query From: Berkin@aol.com 22 February 1996

I am desperately trying to locate a piece by Julia Stickley called "The Truth about Deborah Sampson Gannett." If anyone knows a) where the piece was published or b) how to get in touch with Stickley, I would really appreciate the help. Thanks.


[Editor's Note: I checked _America: History and Life on CD-ROM(1982-) as well as _Notable American Women_, but found no citation to this. CM]

Second Query From: Eloise Blanpied gdb4@cornell.edu 27 April 1996

...I am interested in knowing if Deborah Sampson Gannett (1760-1827) was an African American. Pictures and many references represent her as white, but at least two books list her as African American: _Black Women Makers of History_ by Geo. Jackson and _Colored Patriots of the American Revolution_by W. Nell. Any clarification you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

Response From Linda Grant De Pauw Minerva Center 27 April 1996

The story that Deborah was African American keeps resurfacing for some reason, but there is no shred of truth in it. Benjamin Quarles, the pioneering historian of _The Negro in the American Revolution_, which was published in 1961, stated flatly that "The female combatant and former school teach Deborah Sampson[sic]...was not a Negro."

The story first appeared as a result of a misreading of a passage in the book by William C. Nell entitled _Colored Patriots of the American Revolution_, published in 1855. Nell mentions two black Revolutionary War veterans who were remembered by a man named Lemuel Burr, the grandson of one of them. According to Nell, Burr "often speaks of their reminiscences of Deborah Sampson." This is all Nell wrote; he does not suggest that Deborah herself was black, but apparently some readers jumped to the conclusion that black veterans would not have "reminiscences" about any but other black veterans.

Deborah was well-known---indeed notorious---in her day; she went on lecture tours and her life was the subject of a book called _The Female Review_. Many of the men who served in her unit no doubt told their "reminiscences" of the woman soldier to their grandchildren.

The picture of Samson that is generally reproduced comes from _The Female Review_. It shows a white woman with long loose curls. It was drawn from life and since it was sold to people who had seen Samson in her stage appearances, it cannot have been too inaccurate. Indeed, a striking feature, her large chin, appears in the faces of some of her living descendants.

The genealogy of Deborah Samson (which, by the way, is the correct spelling) is quite clear. On both sides she was descended from Mayflower families. There is no possibility on an extramarital affair between Deborah's mother and a black man. First of all, in the Puritan town of Plympton,MA, a town of only 1300 inhabitants, such an affair could not have remained a secret. Adultery and/or rape would have had consequences. Second, black skin color is a dominant genetic trait and so would have appeared in at least one of Deborah Samson Gannett's three children by Benjamin Gannett,Jr.

Third Query From: Frances McNulty-Sewell fsewell@pigseye.kennesaw.edu 20 May 1996

A fellow student of mine at Kennesaw State College is writing a paper for a political science theory class and she chose the topic of feminists in the colonial period. She has done all the research our limited library could allow and is not coming up with much. She turned to me(her fellow feminist) and the only name I could come up with was maybe Molly Pitcher who could fit into that category.

Sorry to say that I don't know much about the colonial period feminist history. Any suggestions?

Thanks in advance for any assistance you can send my way.

Response: From Theresa Kaminski tkaminsk@worf.uwsp.edu 21 May 1996

I think I have only given brief mention to Molly Pitcher in my courses but spend more time on women like Mercy Otis Warren whose life's work was aimed at improving the condition of women. I do have a couple of observations:

Molly Pitcher and other women who took up the battle when their husbands fell seem to be kind of "deputy husbands"--meaning it was their responsibility to take over a duty that their husbands would normally perform. When home and family were threatened, I think many colonial women did so, whether it was during the Revolution or during fights with Native Americans. The colonial experience, especially during the early period, made it virtually impossible for the kinds of strict gender roles we associate with the 19th-century to operate absolutely. Women would have viewed such actions as expected of them rather than statements of women's power and autonomy.

During the Revolutionary period there was much discussion among upper-class women about women's rights. But at that point the major concern was rights for married women, i.e. the right to hold property after marriage. Equal political rights, such as women's suffrage, did not emerge as a serious concern until the mid-1800s. And when Elizabeth Cady Stanton introduced that as a goal of the "women's rights movement" at the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, it was intensely debated.

>From Marsha J. Valance valance@omnifest.uwm.edu 21 May 1996

I was very lucky to have my mother growing up--both as a guide and a role model. Before becoming a pilot, she had been a tomboy, tagging after her older brother, riding, hunting, sailing, golfing, fencing, swinging like Tarzan thru trees on ropes. She always told my brother, my sister and me that we could do anything we set our minds on. I grew up watching her ride, water-ski, looking at her WWII scrapbooks, and reading Nancy Drew, Tarzan, and John Carter of Mars--the books she'd saved from her childhood. The library books I read were horse stories, dog stories, boys' books(mysteries and sf)--because I couldn't identify with girls' books. Gender was irrelevant--I read about personalities like my own. After much thought, I believe Joan of Arc, Boudicea, and so forth, were individuals who did not define themselves in terms of gender, but in terms of attitude and ability. Proto-feminists were those who saw themselves as part of an underclass, which they wanted to raise; but other achievers were individualists who ignored gender as irrelevant because of their knowledge of their own self-worth. It's a matter of mindset.

>From Gene Moser MinervaCen@aol.com(no longer valid ID) 21 May 1996

Two items-one response.

I agree that calling anybody a feminist in colonial times is something of a mistake-trying to put current values in a culture that probably would have found them strange, if not evil.

But quick information on Molly Pitcher-real name Mary Ludwig Hays_ who became famous at the battle of Monmouth for taking over the service of an artillery piece after he husband was wounded, after being drafted as a member of the crew. She did a few other things and I'd be glad to e-mail direct if any of it is of interest.

Another female matross(gunner in 18th century terms) was Margaret Corbin during the defense of Fort Washington in 1776. I know less about her and would guess her gun was either behind a revetment or inside a casement, causing her a greater degree of protection than a field artillerist would experience.

I am in the process of reading _The Face of War_ and don't really see how it could help study the morality of 16th century enlisted soldiers. It does mention, in the Angincourt section, that the men at arms found no honor in attacking archers and would attempt to attack their social equal. The English longbowmen had no such feeling in return and had no trouble ganging up on a man at arms and defeating him by teamwork.

>From Melissa Walker mwalker@acad.bryant.edu 21 May 1996

Take a look at the work of Mercy Otis Warren who wrote political plays and a history of the Revolution.

Also, the term "feminist" may be problematic. Women like Warren accepted women's separate, non-public role even as they stretched the boundaries of that role. They did not think of themselves as feminists in the sense that historians use that term.

>From Lauranett Lorraine Lee
lll2e@faraday.clas.virginia.edu 21 May 1996

A good starting place would be _Woman in the Afe[?] of the American Revolution_ edited by Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert(univ. of Virginia Press, 1989,1992). Several of the essays cite sources that may be applicable to political science. And the essays themselves are well-written and quite illuminating. Hope this helps.

>From Linda Grant De Pauw Minerva Center 21 May 1996

[Re: Gene Moser's reference to Molly Pitcher]

We've had several go-rounds on the list about Molly Pitcher, Mary Ludwig Hays and Margaret Corbin. If our list web page is working, it should be possible to recover the old threads. (http://h-net.msu.edu/~minerva) Anyway, Molly Pitcher is a mythic figure whose name is first mentioned in stories published long after the war, Mary Ludwig Hays was pensioned for her service with the Continental Army but there is no suggestion in contemporary documents that she had any connection with a cannon(or with the Battle of Monmouth), and Margaret Corbin was pensioned by the Continental Congress with a citation specifically mentioning her service at a field piece during the Battle of Fort Washington.

Two points intrigue me with this thread: First, the astonishing circumstance that Molly Pitcher is still the best know woman of the American Revolutionary era. During the Bicentennial, I used to tell the project funders that it was disgraceful to have only Molly Pitcher and Betsy Ross remembered--now, thirty years later, it seems we have forgotten Betsy.

Second is the unstated assumption that a combatant woman is necessarily a feminist. My reading of history suggests that women soldiers tend to be conservative. They do not consider their activity to be prescriptive for "feminine" women but often, on the contrary, look upon themselves as "honorary males." They are often chivalrous in their behavior toward civilian women. Even today, military women tend to be conservative politically on all issues except increased opportunity for women in the military(based on gender-blind merit) and sometimes on abortion.

In our century feminism has been so closely aligned with anti-war ideology, what would it suggest to have ideological feminists serving in combat arms? Emily Pankhurst was thrilled to see the Russian all-female Battalion of Death pass in review, but Betty Friedan was nonplused by the graduation of the first women from West Point, asking whether this, really, was what the new feminism was about.

How do others feel? The word "feminist" is, of course, an anachronism when applied prior to this century, but giving the word a broad meaning, can we discuss the proposition? Was Joan of Arc a feminist? Boudicca? How about Hannah Reitsch to whom Hitler awarded the Iron Cross?

>From Ilene Feinman ileneros@cats.ucsu.edu 21 May 1996

Oh Linda, what a great question you raise! I have been wondering this through my work since I have been faced with the task of understanding modern day "feminist"(already a very contested word among women's studies scholars) perspectives in relationship to women in the forces. I have noticed in the congressional hearings and public debates that women in the forces do not see themselves, at least publicly, as feminists...or use the word. More often their testimony expresses desire to do their job to the best of their ability and not be held back due to their biological sex markers(just to put other, more contentious labels to the side for the moment.)

I have been convinced through these readings that the women are interested in the---seemingly, or aspired to--gender neutrality of a career and a notion of citizenship exalted by martial service. The most interesting thing to me, that I would like to hear more form others on the list about, is how their relationship to the military as women informs what a number of them are doing as scholarship on women in the military.

Most of the books that take up the question of women's relationship to the military are as historical documents enlisting the histories to encourage further inclusion of women. Female antimilitarist authors who have written about the military have more often been political scientists such as Cynthia Enloe, looking at the military at a distance or at least a broad sweep of the deleterious effects therein. As international relations work this is fruitful, as to a feminist understanding of the stakes for women in military careers this is not well-articulated.

None so far, and here is my working niche, have explored the meanings for women of different class and racial/ethic and sexual identification positions in the forces in the US and what that means for the forces as a masculinist institution or for society writ large. It is certainly true that folks opposed to women in the forces, especially in combat use feminism as the evil spectre behind the "unnatural drive" of women. People like Phyllis Schlafly, Elaine Donnelly, David Horowitz regularly cite the feminist threat to our military...yet the self identified feminists don't touch the issue.

So, long-winded prose aside, I am quite interested in the question of women in the forces as/not as feminists...and am trying to think through some possible answers along the way. My working title has been "Women Warriors/Women Antimilitarists: Will the Real Feminists Please Stand Up!"

>From Alison Weir, Capt, USAF, USAF Academy 21 May 1996

I have to admit, I thought about mentioning Mercy Otis Warren, Judith Sargeant Murray and also Susanna Rowson as early proto-feminists, but I had thought the question referred to women who served in the army.

My hometown (Guilford,CT) has its own local lore about a woman, Agnes Dickinson Less, who scared off probably the only British soldier who stepped foot in town, but aside from her, I personally know of no women who fought in the Revolution. Interestingly, women who did dress in soldier garb were enough of a concern to Federalist playwrights William Dunlap and Mordachai Noah who each wrote plays featuring women in soldiers' garb, primarily to reinforce the "unnaturalness" of women soldiers (Dunlap's "The Glory of Columbia" and Noah's "She Would Be A Soldier".)

But to the larger question to which I wish to respond: is it worthwhile discussing "feminism" in relation to women in the military? While I freely label myself a "feminist," I have to admit I'm not entirely sure what that means. As a woman who has spent, between college and her career, 14 years in engineering and the Air Force, I have found a few women who challenge gender-based occupational stereotypes willing to call themselves feminists. On the flip side, I have found that my friends in humanities, fields society deems more suitable for women, are much more willing to call themselves feminists. I have a couple of theories as to why. It could be, as you have suggested that the women, like men, who are attracted to technical and military fields tend to be more conservative. But in addition, a woman doing a "male" job can be threatening enough to men around her; why would she further that alienation to the point that she can be dismissed as a "feminnazi.?"

In the military, with all its overt discrimination legislated away, the more insidious threat is the covert discrimination and harassment that relies more on personal interaction than public stance.

Activists rarely join the military. Until the personal become political(as in Tailhook), many military women are reluctant to admit publicly(if they ever do) that they see themselves as different from their male peers or to make that difference "a federal case."

>From Ann K. Wentworth awentwor@sescva.esc.edu 22 May 1996

I am surprised no one has mentioned Deborah Sampson Gannett (alias "Timothy Thayer" and "Robert Shurtleff") who twice enlisted in the American forces during the Revolution--dressed as a man. The first time she was discovered, but the second time she served for 18 months until she was wounded and eventually given an honorable discharge. She went home to Massachusetts, married, had a family & eventually received pensions from both the national and state governments. I am not sure she qualifies as a "feminist," but after her death her husband received a widower's pension based on his wife's service--quite a role reversal for the time!

Back during the Bicentennial some group did a film on her here in the Hudson Valley and she is occasionally mentioned in articles and history books.

There was also a teenager whose name escapes me at the moment who did a Paul Revere-type ride in southern Dutchess County to warn the community the British were coming. She has never gotten the press that Paul did, though!

>From Melissa Smith masmith@law.harvard.edu 24 May 1996

I remember from a trip to the Hudson Valley when I was around 9 that in Carmel, New York there is a wonderful, dramatic equestrian statue of Sybil Luddington (the teenage "Paul Revere").

>From Linda Grant De Pauw Minerva Center 25 May 1996

Sybil Luddington is the girl who roused the militia in an unsuccessful attempt to save Danbury, CT from a British attack. Back in the late 'seventies a team of film makers put in a proposal to NEH for a series called "Courageous Girls' Stories" and did their pilot on Luddington. It was really very good but NEH turned down the application.

>From Cynthia F. Teramae Teramaec@aol.com 25 May 1996

In reply to your query on colonial feminists, here are several women who came up in my research when I wrote my thesis on women in combat:

Melissa S. Helbert, Annie Etheridge, Margaret Corbin, Deborah Sampson Gannett, Lucy Brewer. You may want to reference:

_Mixed Company: Women in the Modern Army_ by Helen Rogan

"Women and Their Wartime Roles", Minerva: Quarterly Report (Spring 1990_

"Bonny Yank and Ginny Reb", Minerva: Quarterly Report (Summer 1992)

"The Spirit of Molly Marine", Minerva: Quarterly Report (Winter 1990)

_Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution_ by Jeanne Holm

_Women in Battle_ by John Laffin

Good luck.

>From Maria Elena Raymond 73113.1362@compuserve.com 12 June 1996

i apologize for taking so long to put my two cents in, but have been working on the H-Women's Web Page bibliographies and discussions. When Webmistress Melanie Shell returns after June 22nd, I would urge everyone to take a look at the updated pages(actually...there's a lot of new things there right now.)

Anyway, I picked upa book today called _ Women's World: A Timeline of Women in History_; Irene M. Franck and David M. Brownstone, eds; HarperCollins, 1995.

Re: some of the women who have been mentioned in this thread, this is what I found written about them:

"Deborah Sampson(Gannett) 1760-1827, American Revolutionary War soldier (as Robert Shurtliff" p.78 "Deborah Sampson(later Gannett) was discharged from the Revolutionary Army(1783) when it was discovered that she was a woman; as Robert Shurtliff she had enlisted and fought, sustaining wounds at Tarrytown." p.84 "...She later received a soldier's pension." p.102 "_The Female Review; or, Life of Deborah Sampson_ was published(1797), a greatly fictionalized biography of a woman who fought as a man..." p.89

"Molly Pitcher(Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley,1754-1832), reputed hero of the American Revolution." p.76 "At the Battle of Monmouth(June 26, 1778), Mary Ludwig Hays carried water(and so was nicknamed Molly Pitcher) to the troops of the Pennsylvania Artillery, including her husband. She was said to have taken his place as a cannoneer after he was wounded; she became a Revolutionary War hero and was later awarded a state pension(1822)." p.81

No mention of Mercy Otis Warren. One mention of Betsy Ross. Given Linda Grant De Pauw's excellent information about Molly Pitcher, in particular, I wonder what sources this current book used??

Re: the term "feminist" being used in colonial times...after an *extremely* cursory glance thru the book's timeline for that period, I didn't see the term "feminist" used until the year 1791 and it was in conjunction with Etta Aedlers Palm, a Dutch woman who made a speech on the rights of women to the French Assembly that year.

The book is informational, although due to space there's not much depth. And historians of today could rightly call most of the women in the book "feminist" so I'm sure the editors were being judicious in the use of that term. (Although by 1810 there's a great many more references to "feminists" and "women's rights advocates.")

In typing this thread for the web page, I was particularly struck by the question of Ilene Feinman as to what members of the list are doing(or perhaps know of others who are doing same) scholarship work on women in the military...with emphasis on what it means for our society and/or the US armed forces to have so many women of different classes, racial/ethnic and sexual identifications in the military now. And if the work isn't being done, then my own question is why not?

And I would love to see answers to Linda's questions (re:feminism in a broader scope)...Was Joan of Arc a feminist? Boudicca? How about Hannah Reitsch to whom Hitler awarded the Iron Cross? Someone on this list must have an opinion about this? Thanks.

>From David Doughan doughan@lgu.ac.uk 13 June 1996

About the term 'feminism': I've not had time to check, but I think the first recorded use of this in English is about 1895-it had been around in French somewhat longer(possibly since 1848), but I think it's most unlikely that it would have been used in the American Revolution(or even the first French one-I don't recall even enemies using the term of Manon Roland, Olympe de Gouges, et al.)

As for what defines a feminist, and whether (e.g.) Boudica, or Hannah Reitsch or Margaret Thatcher qualify, I take refuge in the Rebecca West quote that I believe was on this list a week or two ago.

>From Laura Del Col delcol@ab.edu 13 June 1996

Personally, I can say that being a feminist requires being aware of the oppression of women as a *class*. For that reason, among others, I wouldn't call Joan of Arc a feminist(though that isn't to say feminists couldn't see her as a role model). Dpeending on how you look at it, her motivation in becoming a soldier was a)religion or b)nationalism; she doesn't seem to have been fighting for the right of women in general to become soldiers, and she never encouraged other women to join; she seems to have viewed herself as a special case. Also, the sources tell us that her wearing men's clothing was a matter of convenience--it's hard to fight in a dress. Later on, after recanting, she resumed wearing men's clothing to protect herself from rape by her jailers.

Of course, it's possible to define "feminist" as any woman who demands the same rights and opportunities as men. When you look at it that way, the question of whether Joan was a feminist depends on whether she truly believed that she heard voices from heaven telling her what to do.

If, in fact, she considered herself to be simply following God's orders, then no, I would say that she wasn't a feminist. But if, on the other hand, she made up the story about her "voices" in order to have a chance to fight, then the entire meaning of her actions is changed. But all that, of course, is a secret she took to the grave.

By the way, if anyone is interested in reading contemporary accounts of Joan, Iwould highly recommend Regine Pernoud's _Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses_. It consists on annotated excerpts from her trials of condemnation and rehabilitation.

^Z


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