Week 5: In what ways did the American Revolution impact women’s lives and how did the ideology of the revolution shape expectations about women’s roles?
The American Revolution brought economic opportunities to women in a way that allowed them to participate in important events/issues. As we take a look into Chapter 3 of the text, we see progress and improvement from the revolution that increased awareness toward gender equality for women. For example, during the crisis of the American Revolution, American women often became engaged in boycotts and protests that were aimed towards the British (DuBois 103). This specifically focuses on an economic opportunity and political action that women were faced against during the war. As far as education goes during the colonial period, it wasn’t really looked upon women to prosper in that area, however, after the war opportunities were more available for women to attend missionary schools. Taking a look at the primary source “Education and Republican Motherhood”, it explores the benefits of education for women and the improvement it had on Republican Motherhood. Public education for white women was promoted for the fact that it would be better off for the public that these women were educated and that there can be opportunities for these women beyond the normal household, stay-at-home duties (DuBois 145).
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With the different thoughts based on the American Revolution and the impact it had on society and women during the colonial period, were there any expectations that came with the successes of the war that affected women’s roles?
Week 5 – Why did women who wanted to join the Revolutionary War have to cross dress and hide their gender if they wanted to fight for their country?
There were women during the Revolutionary War that wanted to fight for their country and what they believed in, however, it was the law that women were not allowed to fight in any war. The military was considered a male dominant institution. There were a few ladies that fought in a real combat but most women were water carriers, nurses, laundry attendants and cooks. Most of the tasks done by women during war were the disgusting, dirty jobs such as cleaning up behind doctors, changing wound gauzes and cleaning up feces or blood. The women worked long hours, dealt with harsh labor and received underpaid wages. In chapter 3 of the book, Through Women’s Eyes, states that “the sexual division of labor relegated women to menial tasks, and no matter how important this work was , women’s compensation was small.” (109)
Some women even began following their husbands during the war to stay financially afloat while officers wives would visit for entertainment purposes but not to work. These women were considered to be camp followers who would risk their lives to follow the soldiers. Some women would follow the camps for firewood, food and to even date soldiers. Women that did stay home were railroaded by officers and soldiers to use their homes and land for official military business. Ladies during this era were more frequent to be disrespected, physically and sexually assaulted by soldiers from both sides. If women hid their gender they were more likely to live a safe and unharmed life.
This clearly displays why a few good women chose to fight and change into mens clothes, by protecting their gender they were able to protect themselves and protect their country. One woman by the name of Deborah Sampson was a strong religious baptist, who was turned away from her church for dressing in men’s clothes, however, at one time she was an indentured servant and had to dress like this when working. In 1780, Deborah did not have a master, a father or a husband and remained single by traveling from town to town, furthermore, this was very uncommon during this era. In 1782, she dressed like a man, enlisted in the military under a male name and served for over 18 months before men and the government found out her real gender. She was wounded twice and given an honorable discharge, which I think is amazing because of the standards of the law during this time. Later in 1802, she was even able to receive a small military stipend for her previous military service. Deborah even went into depth by giving speeches and performing gun drills, take for instance her words in Through Women’s Eyes, Portraits of Revolutionary Women “I burst the tyrant bonds which held my sex in awe and clandestinely or by stealth, grasped an opportunity which custom and the world seemed to deny, as a natural privilege.” (133)