Women in the American Revolution

SOURCE: H-WOMEN, Women's History

More on Feminists and the American Revolution: Re (8) ( Wed, 22 May 1996 10:22:34 -0500)
Editor's note: May I encourage each of you to read this very interesting and informative collection. In the 6th posting Linda Grant DePauw raises some very good questions for us to consider that relate to the other current thread on contemporary feminism.

From: "MinervaCen@aol.com" 21-MAY-1996 09:55:08.07
From: tkaminsk@worf.uwsp.edu (Theresa Kaminski)

I think I have ever 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.

Also, 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 "woman's rights movement" at the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, it was intensely debated.

Theresa Kaminski
Dept. of History
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

From: <MinervaCen@aol.com> 21-MAY-1996 09:58:33.96
From: valance@omnifest.uwm.edu (Marsha J. Valance)

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 brothers, my sister, and me that we could do anything we set our minds on. I grew up watching her ride and waterski, 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, boy's books (mysteries and sf)--because I couldn't identify with girl's 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 indivualists who ignored gender as irelevant because of their knowledge of their own self-worth. It's a matter of mindset. Marsha in Milwaukee (proud mother of a daughter who knows her own worth)

Marsha J. Valance

From: <MinervaCen@aol.com> 20-MAY-1996 18:22:09.11
From: Gene Moser

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 her 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 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 that 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 rereading 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.

Gene Moser

From: <mwalker@acad.bryant.edu> "Melissa Walker" 22-MAY-1996 08:53:12.87
Take a look at the work of Mercy Otis Warren who wrote political plays and a history of the revolution.

Also, the terminology "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.

Melissa Walker
Clark University

From: "lll2e@faraday.clas.virginia.edu" "Lauranett Lorraine Lee" 22-MAY-1996 09:54:08.06

A good starting place would be *Women in the Afe of the American Revolution* edited by Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert (University Press of Virginia, 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...Lauranett Lee

From: >MinervaCen@aol.com< 20-MAY-1996 18:22:14.05
In a message dated 96-05-20 16:21:39 EDT Gene Moser writes:

<< 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 her 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 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 that her gun was either behind a revetment or inside a casement, causing her a greater degree of protection than a field artillerist would experience. >>

We've had several go-rounds on the list about Molly Pitcher, Mary Ludwig Hays, and Margaret Corbin. If the list web page is working, it should be possible to recover the old threads. (Those of you who haven't checked it out, point your browser to 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 about this thread. First, the astonishing circumstance that Molly Pitcher is still the best known woman of the American Revolutionary era. During the Bicentennial, I used to tell 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. (And no one on the list has yet mentioned the proto-feminist Mercy Otis Warren.) 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 alligned 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 non-plussed 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?

Linda Grant De Pauw

From: >MinervaCen@aol.com< 21-MAY-1996 17:13:01.40
From: ileneros@cats.ucsc.edu (Ilene Feinman)

Oh Linda, what a great question your 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 citzenship exalted by martial service. The most interesting thing to me, that I would like to hear more from 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. Feminist 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, a s 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/ethnic 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 the folks opposed to women in the forces, especially in combat use feminism as the evil spectre behind this "unnatural drive" of women's. People like Phyllis Schlafly, Elaine Donnelly, David Horowitz regularly cite the feminist threat to our military... yet the self identified feminists don't touch this 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!"

Ilene Feinman

From: "MinervaCen@aol.com" 21-MAY-1996 17:12:58.77

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 Lee, 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 soldier's garb, primarily to reinforce the "unnaturalness" of women as 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 few women who challenge gender-based occupational stereotypes willing to call themselves feminists. On the flip side, I have found that my friends in the 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 the men, attracted to technical and military fields tend to be more conservative. But in addition, a woman's doing a "male" job can be threatening enough to the men around her; why would she further that alienation to the point that she can be dismissed as a "feminazi"?

In the military, with all 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 becomes 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".

Alison Weir, CAPT, USAF
USAF Academy

Feminists and the American Revolution: Re (1) ( Fri, 24 May 1996 11:30:44 -0500)
From: "awentwor@sescva.esc.edu" 22-MAY-1996 14:59:17.78

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 American 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 Bicentenial 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 that the British were coming. She has never gotten the press that Paul did though!

Ann K. Wentworth
SUNY-Empire State College

Feminists and the American Revolution: Re (2) ( Tue, 28 May 1996 12:13:41 -0500)
From: "MinervaCen@aol.com" 25-MAY-1996 08:12:18.93

>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 that the British were coming.

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

Linda Grant De Pauw
The MINERVA Center, Inc.

From: "MinervaCen@aol.com" 25-MAY-1996 19:25:52.38
From: Teramaec@AOL.COM

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

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

"Mixed Company: Women in the Modern Army", by Helen Rogan
Minerva: Quarterly Report (Spring 1990) "Women and their Wartime Roles."
Minerva: Quarterly Report (Summer 1992) "Bonny Yank and Ginny Reb"
Minerva: Quarerly Report (Winter, 1990) "The Spirit of Molly Marine."
"Women in the Military an Unfinished Revolution" by Jeanne Holm
"Women in Battle," by John Laffin

Good luck
Cynthia F. Teramae

Feminist in the American Revolution: Query ( Mon, 20 May 1996 12:15:10 -0500)
From: "MinervaCen@aol.com" 19-MAY-1996 13:46:37.35
-------------CROSS-POST FROM H-MINERVA -------

Subj: Feminists from the Colonial Period
Date: 96-05-19 11:29:53 EDT
From: fsewell@PigsEye.Kennesaw.EDU (Frances Sewell)

A fellow student of mine at Kennesaw State College is writing a paper for a political science theory class and she chose the topic 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 in feminist history.

Any suggestions?

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

Frances McNulty-Sewell