Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence, written by Carol Berkin, features the revolutionary war through the eyes of women. She makes a point that women played one of the important roles in the war, though the history books often rule them out, or romanticize their roles. Carol Berkin has textual evidence that different women played a huge part in the Revolution to creating our great nation; she focuses on colonial white women, Native Americans, and African- Americans. She is also focused on women of both loyalist and patriotic background, as well as rich and poor, and the struggle between The North American colonies, and England.
To prove her statement/ thesis, Carol Berkin uses many sources from letters, personal diaries, and memoirs from the war. She also cited law books, and newspaper articles of the time period. She used sources such as historical books of the colonial period, biographies of African-American women, and Native American women from the Revolutionary war.
Though there are many letters sent back and forth, from wife to husband, to brother, to father, many were from women to women, one really stood out was that of Martha Washington, her sister, and friends. She spoke about how although there is a war going on, the people are welcoming her with open arms, and cheering, but she doesn’t seem happy but frighten (pg.70).
In chapter one, she focused on the colonial society. Where men focused on intellectual issues and went to school, whereas women took on the commonly role of the “house-wife”. Women barely had any rights of their own, they had to be at the mercy of their husbands if they were married, and fathers, brothers, and sisters husbands if they were single, but in the 1750s, only the wealthy women had an easier life in colonial times than the others, the only thing they needed to worry about was just pleasing to their husbands, other things such as cleaning, cooking, decorating was left for their servants (pg.3,6,7,9,).
Chapter two is when the change is starting to happen, but just a little. It focuses on the rise of the political actions of women. Women back then did not have any voice in politics, but the first political act was to say “No” when the British raised taxes (pg. 13). When sales started to plummet, parliament decided to repeal the stamp act. From then on women started to write manifestos, telling people to not buy British goods and to spin their own wool. They realized they didn’t have to buy British goods, and that they could just make their own (pg. 14-15).
Chapter three, focused on challenges at home. As the war breaks out, women’s lives change drastically. While men were out fighting in the war, some women stayed home to keep businesses going, run the farms, and to take care of children, this was something they didn’t have to do before the war, because the men would do it. As the war intensified, there was no where safe to stay, or hide. Some women died, and others were raped (pg.33-39).
Chapter four focused on camp followers such as wives, prostitutes, and refugees (pg.53). They did things like wash clothes, cooked, and sometimes fight alongside their husbands (pg.57-59). Though they are useful, if they were found guilty pf theft, or prostitution, they could be drummed out the camp, whipped, or dunked under water (pg. 61). Camp followers were seen as disgusting by everyone, especially by the solders, but without the camp followers, the armies would not be able to function at all and it would probably fail.
In chapter five, Carol Berkin introduces camp followers, she starts off by talking about the generals wives, whom are usually seen as very patriotic, so their presence was more symbolic than it was practical. It was not appropriate for these women to live on the army camps, so housing was always found nearby, usually at the finest estates in the area, from there, they would also plan dinner parties and balls (pg. 67-68).
Chapter six is devoted to loyalists, and how choosing to side with the British cost them their way of life. These women suffered the loss of their home because they chose to side with the British during the war, some left to Canada, while others sailed back to England. They did that because it was miserable for them to live with their patriotic neighbors. Ones who stayed back were often bullied, or shunned by their community (pg. 104-106).
Carol Berkin devoted chapter seven to the Native Americans. In Native American tribes, their way of life is totally different from that of white colonists. For example, Native American women enjoyed a more powerful role, from having a big and influential voice in their tribe to choosing and removing the next tribal chief (pg.108). However, their way of life is weird to the white colonists.
Chapter eight is simply about the mistreatment of African- American women in revolutionary times. like most colonial women seeking protection, African- American women also seek protection as camp followers or as “runaway slaves” (pg.122). The majority of slaves were either taken away from their families, because their master opened up a new plantation, or they were sold because they became pregnant (pg. 121). This made the slaves desperate to be free, so in 1775 the British gave them an opportunity to escape and they took it (pg.122).
Chapter nine is simply about women spies, some were spies for the loyalists, while others are patriotic spies. One spy by the name of Mammy Kate, who is a slave in early 1779 traveled over fifty miles on a mounted horse name Lightfoot to rescue her master Stephen Heard who is a patriot. She went to the British camp and offered herself as a washerwoman, she then smuggled Stephen Heard out from her laundry basket, saving him from an execution, he then thanked her and had given her freedom, she then lived near Stephen Heard and his family for the rest of her life (pg.142).
Last but not least, Carol ends the book with the “The legacy of Revolution”(pg.148). She mainly talked about how woman proved themselves multiple times on multiple occasions, that they are as able-bodied as men are, and that they should have equal rights. Instead, after the war their was a campaign slogan promising a “return to normalcy”, and the majority of the public agreed (pg.148) The reason for this, is because they needed to raise their kids, so they can go to school, so they can be the next generation of patriots. (pg.156)
Carol Berkin obviously looks up to the women whom she was writes about, for qualities such as intelligence, courage, physical strength, and resourcefulness, but through all that women had gone through during the Revolutionary war, in the end when Abigail Adams simply requested that women would be treated as equal as men, but “No one took up the suggestion made by Abigail Adams in 1776.”(pg. 157)