Women's Rights: Before and After the American Revolution

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Women’s Rights:
Before and After the
American Revolution

The American Revolution played a significant role in lives of nearly every person in America. Most men left their wives, mothers, sisters and daughters in charge of farms and businesses when they left to fight in the Patriot armies. There were many men, who had no farms or businesses, left their women with absolutely nothing to fall back on. This led to a significant increase in the population of impoverished women in several cities and towns. Due to the ongoing war, there were many price increases that these women simply could not afford. Some would riot and loot for food, while others would lead popular protests. “In New Jersey and Staten Island, women launched attacks on occupying British troops, whom they were required to house and feed at considerable expense.” (Brinkley, p150) The letters from Abigail Adams to her husband, John Adams, gives an insight to how women may have felt about the many difficulties they faced when their men went off to war. Her letters speak of the struggles she faced while trying to run the family farm, raise and educate their children, and deal with many wartime issues. (Stuart, Secondary Source) Nearly every woman who stayed behind was faced with these issues. However, not all women chose to stay behind. Many flocked to the camps of Patriot armies to join their family members. “Sometimes by choice, but most often out of economic necessity or because they had been driven from their homes by the enemy (and by the smallpox and dysentery the British army carried with it” (Brinkley, pg 150) Though most men, including George Washington, saw female presence at camp as disruptive and distracting, there were many reasons that women were of great value to the new army, which had yet to develop an adequate system of supply and auxiliary services. For example, the presence of women had increased army morale. They would also perform the necessary tasks, such as cooking, laundry, and nursing. However, not all women restricted themselves to these typical “women’s duties”. A large number found their way to the battlefield. Some came simply to aid in the care of the soldiers, while others would disguise themselves as men as to be allowed to participate in combat. Mary Ludwig Hayes McCauley, known as Molly “Pitcher”, is an excellent example of both types of women. She earned the name “Pitcher” because she would carry pitchers of water to the men on the battlefield. During one particular encounter, she watched her husband, an artillery office, become incapacitated. Immediately, she took his place at a field gun and continued with the battle. Her efforts that day earned her the new nickname “Heroine of Monmouth” and “Sergeant Molly”. (J. C. Armytage, Terdiary Source) When the war was over and everyone returned home, there seemed to be little impact on how society, and women themselves, defined the role of females in peacetime. However, the newfound emphasis on liberty and “rights of man” led some women to begin to question their position in society, and if “rights of man” would include them as well. In Adams letter to her husband on March 31, 1776, she says, “I long to hear you have declared an independency – and by way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and more favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of husbands.“ (Adams, Primary Source) In these letters, she is calling for a modest expansion of women’s rights and wanted to protect women from abusive and tyrannical men. “She was very opinionated about women's roles in the war effort and was supportive of the American cause.” (Stuart, Secondary Source) Other women, such as Judith Sargent Murray, took the quest for women’s rights one step further. “Murray, one of the leading essayists of the late 18th century, wrote in...
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