Women’s Role and Struggle for Equality during the American Revolution
Women’s Struggles and Educational Progress in the Revolutionary Era
During the Revolution, women were often not treated fairly. Women during this time were thought to be inferior to men, which was evident in the lack of legal rights for married women. Women were also denied independence in economic, political, or civic matters in Anglo-American society during the eighteenth century. For example, A large number of white women in the eighteenth century spent their days carrying out many challenging tasks in or around their rural homes. The riskiest work they performed was childbirth. Most women during this time gave birth to five or more children. However, this was in addition to the other pregnancies that ended in miscarriages. Sadly some of these women also died during childbirth, or in some cases, they watched their infants die.
During the eighteenth century, women weren’t allowed to have a say in politics, and some of them became annoyed because of the many restrictions placed on them. As time went on, some things slowly began to change. For example, a movement began to help improve the education of women in order to give them more ways to support themselves. During the Revolutionary Era, male and female authors began to demand improvements to female education. They argued that there were many major differences that existed amongst the sees that were based solely on access to learning. This was the point that Essayist and early American Feminist Judith Sargent Murray was trying to make in her essay “On The Equality of the Sexes.”
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Women’s Vital Roles: Contributions and Resistance in the Revolutionary Era
Murray’s writings became very popular, and she continued to publish additional Feminist essays that focused on women’s education and the equal value men and women should have. Murray believed that while society must be based on strict compliance to order, A woman’s place within. That order must be changed. Murray believed that “Whatever differences that existed between the intelligence of men and women were the result of prejudice and discrimination that prevented women from sharing the full range of male privilege and experience.” Murray supported the view that the Order of Nature demanded full equality between the sexes, but that male domination corrupted this principle.
The Revolutionary Generation included numerous women that contributed to the struggle for independence. Although women weren’t allowed to serve in the military, they assisted in many other ways. There were wives, girlfriends, daughters, and sisters that joined their camps to perform other important tasks. For example, Martha Washington accompanied her husband, General George Washington, during much of the war. These women became known as camp followers. They cooked, cleaned, sewed, mended uniforms, and provided medical assistance to the sick and injured. They also tended to the farm animals, milking cows, and searched for food. Some of these women showed their dedication in other ways, such as risking their lives by acting as spies. They would enter British camps or places of recreation to seek out information they could pass on to the rebels.
The Daughters of Liberty was a group that came about after the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act. It was an Organization made up of only women that wanted to demonstrate their loyalty to the Revolutionary cause by boycotting British goods and making their own. The women continued to be on the frontline of efforts to impose boycotts on British goods, but they also controlled domestic production efforts. “Because most textiles in the colonies were imported from Britain, weaving homespun cloth became an act of political rebellion.”
- Murray, Judith Sargent. “On The Equality of the Sexes.”
- Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800. Cornell University Press, 1996.
- Kerber, Linda K. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. University of North Carolina Press, 1980.
- Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-Century America.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1.1 (1975): 1-29.
- Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. Vintage, 1993.
- Zagarri, Rosemarie. Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007.