In Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence, by Carol Berkin, who is a History Professor at Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Baruch College, provides several viewpoints of the way women were affected by the Revolutionary War but at the same time also playing majors roles in it.
When one thinks about the Revolutionary War, the things that come to mind are the accomplishment of men, that’s because most of the history books imply the importance of only men in the Revolutionary War, the mention of women in the war were either not of importance or were completely left out. In reality, it was both women and men who helped out in the war in their own way. She uses many primary sources; quoting from documents, song lyrics, articles, journals, letters, and quotes from newspapers were used to back up her evidence. In the book, Berkin gives attention to all women, from rich to poor, to American, British, Indian or African American women.
Berkin does not just talk about one story of one group of women in her book, no, each chapter is dedicated to the different group of women and the struggle they go through. Berkin began her book off by discussing the positions women had during the time in society and how it was changing as the war progressed on. Men treated women as their personal slaves, only good for doing household chores and popping out babies. If a woman decides to read a book or get an education, then they were considered mentally unstable.
John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts said regarding women and book, “If she had attended her household affairs and such things as belong to women, and not gone out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as are proper to men, whose minds are stronger.” Women depended on men in many things, everything she owned previously became her husband’s property after marriage, she was not her own person. They really had only two choices; marriage or become a spinster
Women were also not given permission to be involved in any political matters, they’re brains were considered weaker than the men. When the boycott of British goods was taking place, women “became crucial participants in the first organized opposition to British policy.” Saying “no” was the first political stand ladies acquired, the businesswomen denied the sale of British goods at their place of business. Even though being in the newspaper was a fresh and bold move for the ladies, it was recommended for them to not put anything besides their names on petitions, but they still did it anonymously.
As the home-front war broke out and men went to battle, the lives of women changed dramatically. No one and nothing was safe; kids were being killed, women were being raped or killed for having certain beliefs, villages, buildings, and farms were being abolished. When households’ items ran out, women improvised using “thorns for pins, making tea from herbs and flowers,” they published helpful information in the newspaper too. They also helped out others, “if the army needed saltpeter, women made saltpeter, boiling together wood and ash and earth scraped from beneath the floors of their houses, adding charcoal and sulfur to produce the powder. If the army needed clothing, women…went door-to-door, soliciting clothes from their neighbors, then cleaned and mended them before delivering them to nearby troops. When word spread that the military needed metal to produce bullets and cannon shot, women melted down their own pewter tableware, clock weights, and window weights…and women volunteered to provide beds and care for the soldiers.”
Many who lost their husbands and kids to the war followed the soldiers around, most of them were lower-class women who cooked, nursed, and washed their clothes. While camp followers were looked down upon, general wives who went to their husbands were considered loyal. While some were happy to be with them, others like Martha Washington, saw it only as an obligation. Some Loyalist women were treated so badly for siding with British they had to leave their hometown for good. Native American women, on the other hand, had a more dominant role in society, but since they had aligned themselves with the British who were loosing, their life was about to get more complicated.
“Their social roles would be dramatically changed and their power within their communities diminished.” Like camp followers, many African American women went with the British army in hopes of getting freedom, foods, drinks, and protection. But in the end, they were treated unfairly and on top of that, they were cheated out of their freedom too. Many others in order to help their country became spies, saboteurs or couriers. After the war had ended, some things improved for the women while other things like equality didn’t, with so much that happened, the ladies wanted life the way it was before the war. Women were allowed to get an education in order to teach their children, being a wife and a mother was an ideal goal in life set by society.
Upon reading Revolutionary Mothers, it gave me a whole new perspective on the struggles ladies went through during the Revolutionary war, they lost their loved ones, helped soldiers, became spies, saboteurs or couriers. This book is really intriguing and whoever takes the time to read and comprehend what the author is trying to say, they will be fascinated with the way women handled themselves and others during the war and will have an understanding of what and why they did what they did.