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Women and the American Revolution

American Revolution

  • The American Revolution and the Revolutionary War was a period in history when the English colonies fought ideologically, then fought a war to gain independence from England.
  • It is normally studied as a period when men in the colonies worked ideologically and physically but women’s contributions are often overlooked.
  • In fact, women were aware of the changes occurring in the colonies, they understood the discussions regarding changes in authority and the ideas of inalienable rights.
  • Not only did women understand but they contributed in many effective ways to help the war effort.


Women’s Contributions

  • Women contributed in many ways and their efforts were essential for the war effort.
  • Women’s roles varied based on their social status and race.
    • Native American women
    • Black women
    • Farmer’s wives
    • Poor women
    • Wealthy women


Early Activism

  • Daughters of Liberty
    • Founded 1765
    • Formal women’s association and general term for women working or fighting for liberty during the American Revolution.
      • Signed petitions
      • Boycotted imported tea and textiles
      • Made homespun
      • Produced at home rather than purchase imported goods
      • Direct response to the Stamp Act and later the
      • Townshend Act Tax on household items including tea


Home and Farm

  • Women were left in charge of the home and farm
    • Filled their husband’s roles on the farm
    • Had been considered men’s work
    • Essential to keep farms and homes for the war’s end
  • And still had to continue their regular household duties
  • Women maintaining their family farm was vital for the war effort because as men left their farms to fight the war it would have meant that they had nothing to return to once the war was over.
  • Women stepped in and along with their regular duties they worked on their farms and many succeeded in keeping them functioning for when the men returned from war.


Camp Followers

  • Nearly 20,000 women served as camp followers for the Continental Army
    • Many women followed the continental troops as mothers and wives
    • Many women would not survive if they did not follow the troops – needed food
    • Their work helped soldier’s morale, prevented desertion
  • Worked outside of the home but work remained domestic
    • Nurses (not professionally trained)
    • Washed / Cleaned
    • Cooked
    • Mended clothing



  • Some women (few) disguised themselves as men in order to fight
    • Some women needed soldier’s pay
    • Others wanted to participate for the cause
    • Women understood the importance of the revolution


African American Women

  • Enslaved men and women were promised freedom if they sided with British
    • Many walked long distances to find British troops
    • Were threatened with death if caught on route
    • Some were re-sold into slavery by merchant marines


Native American Women

  • Native American women were affected by the revolutionary war
  • Tribes had to decide to side with England or American colonists
  • Many women had power in helping with the decisions that needed to be made


New Way of Thinking

  • People began to question absolute authority in their lives
    • Women began to think about the role of authority in their lives too
  • Women began to apply republican theory to domestic politics – power of the people
    • English Revolution of 1688 – absolute monarchy fell out of favor
    • Enlightenment Period, 1714-1818 – Influenced the American Revolution
    • The Great Awakening, 1730 – 1770


Republican Ideology

  • Am Rev challenged laws governing the relationship between ruler and ruled / subjects and the king
  • Women will begin to question patriarchy as absolute authority in their lives
    • Husbands
    • Community and church leaders


Abigail Adam, 1744-1818

  • First Lady of the United States, 1797-1801
    • Married to John Adams
    • Advocated for the redistribution of authority within the family
    • Advocated for women’s education
  • Educated herself with her farther and grandfather’s books
    • Advocated for girl’s education to equal that of boys
  • Had a lifelong correspondence with her husband
    • Shows change in relationships
    • Chronology of public issues of the era
    • Her observations and views
    • Her advice to her husband on these issues


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History 111