Friday, February 3, 2012

Revolutionary Mothers. Women in the Struggle for America's Independence Written by: Carol Berkin

Warning some spoilers. And very long.

The American Revolution is painted as a harsh time, but a patriotic time when men threw off the chains or taxation nooses of their mother country and her tryanny reign. Rarely are the women who were part of this Revolution mentioned and those that did partake quickly became distant memories and shadows who walked the road of Independence. The war touched so many and yet these women until recently were never really mentioned, and still are not in the major history books. To this day I hear groans when a strong female character in some action movie rises up and does some great deed. Some of my friends call it unessecary "girl power moments." I hate when they say that, because why should it be rare to have a kick butt female?

Now, this book speaks of every women from the Revolutionary war the White demure colonists who had to follow her husband's, brothers, or father's politics. The Native American council women who had such a strong voice, but thought the Revolution a battle between brothers and tried to figure out a way to not become involved and to not lose more of their homeland. The strong African American who was either slave or even freed were still treated as a lower class than the men fighting the war. All were thrust into a war, and encouraged by their men to do their part to help their causes. Carol Berkin writes a very good book. It is not so much a story but a collective story of those women who lived, fought, survived, and died during the Revolutionary war.
I read quite a bit abou the Revolutionary War, and paid great attention to this topic in school. Her book is grouped in a very agreeable way. An introduction, that is so colorful so vibrant right off the bat she tells you what this book is a collective telling of women's stories. She also states. "The Revolution also left much undone. The eighteenth-centry embrace of freedom liberty, and equality was not yet wide enough to encompass women, men without property, African Americans, or Indians." So, this book also speaks of others and also a great deal about Americas founding fathers and their beliefs and the interaction they had with their wives.
Her next chapter goes into what women thought of what caused the rift and the final straw. It is a good chapter indeed, and shows just how much women gathering and banding together had such an impact in those first few days when there was talk of Liberty.
Chapter three deals with the horrors of much does not change even in this modern day these cases still creep up. Seriously page 39 may just make you as angry as I am. I was shocked to learn Thomas Jefferson, was well known for his opposition to women's participation in, or concern with, politics. I never knew that. I certainly don't remember that being a foot note in my schools text either as a child.
Chapter four is just a kick in the gut. This chapter deals with the women who followed the army, both armies. General Washington could not stand these women and neither could most of the men it seems. It is interesting as the Dutch during their war in India would take camp wives, and so it seems the British and Colonials did as well. Also sad, these camp wives could easily be discarded and drummed out, and many were and could claim no compensation. How horrendous. Yet, these camp women were so fully needed! They were the nurses of the sick, cloth menders, laundresses, cooks, scavengers for supplies, and so many more duties fell to them. They were even used as soldiers and spies, and yet still many men thought them wretched creatures and generals thought them as beast of burden. Why when women had no clothes, shoes, and other necessities and it was requested they be given these bare minimum items the state legislature refused... just shocking.
 Chapter Five deals with war being hard on domestic happiness. I feel this is pretty obvious that yes it does upset happiness. Still it is an interesting chapter and you see how the original Patriotic fathers dealt and interacted with their wives, and how clever these women could be.
Chapter Six deals with loyalist women in exile, and again it is quite a fascinating chapter and so depressing at the same time. The Revolutionary governments were eager to confiscate the property of men they considered traitors. They would seize homes, land, clothing, basically everything. If a wives husband was a known loyalist and died she was not safe she was not permitted to keep her home or her clothing she was cast out. And, to make matters worse British military commanders and civil officers "were no more eager to shoulder the burden of support for a number of useless Consumers of Provisions, than the patriots." So these women were nothing to either side.
Chapter 7 deals with the Native American women and how they thought the women of Loyalists and Patriots must hear their words. It is again a very moving chapter, and so sad to see a society which looked to women and listened to them collapse and all but vanish.
Chapter 8 tells the story of African American women it is a sad, sad, story so many really thought they were to be freed, and those that were, were treated so inhumanely. It also shows so much even more than two hundred years later has not changed. "In 1784, poor white veterans in Shelburne rioted against blacks, whom they accused of coercing them out of the labor market." This argument goes on even today, though not against blacks, but against the immigrants that migrate to America each year, they too are treated harshly they too are persecuted and risen against, another group, but the same argument continues. It is rather sad no?
Chapter Nine: tells of the Spies, Saboteurs, Couriers, and Other Heroines, though I find most of these chapters pages filled with amazing stories, this chapter hones in on these particular topics, and these women again were just amazing. They surprised themselves. "To achieve their ends, these women often played on the gender expectations and stereotypes of their day, feigning innocence or employing charms and wiles to gain the trust of the enemy."
The final chapter deals with the Legacy of the Revolution. It tells how before the war "Girls knew quite enough if they could make a shirt and a pudding." The Republic though did realize something very significant. "They required informed citizens, able to resist the siren call of the tyrant and the temptations of corruption. Thus, patriotism had to be instilled in each succeeding generation..." Yes, a women’s education would now be needed, but it would not expand on a women's economic opportunity or extend their legal rights. They were instead taught if a war broke out again their way to survival would be, “Patience, endurance, frugality, and fortitude." Abigail wife of John Adams insisted to his wife that his "Masculine system" was benign rather than oppressive." Abigail did try again to ask her husband John to see what she was saying... it is rather an amazing sentence that the author placed here. "I cannot say that I think you very generous to the Ladies, for whilst you are proclaiming peace and good will to Men, Emancipating all Nations, you insist upon retaining absolute power over Wives." Though, she was not asking for women’s suffrage, she only wanted a revision to the laws, and to throw away the notion that she was in the same category as children and the insane, thus robbing her of most of her legal identity.
I found this book to only touch upon so many topics for women during the Revolutionary War, I really had a hate love relationship with this book, because of how much women did, suffered, and endured, and yet they are not really mentioned! There is a movement in the Tea party currently to remove the mention of the Founding fathers as having slaves, then these Tea party members might as well throw out the mention that they had wives or even Females in America seeing as that too would paint a not so happy picture on many of the Founding Fathers in their quest for Liberty. This was a good book, and I think will prove to be a gateway drug to other books of similar topics.

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