Thrilled by the Thought header image

A feminist waxes patriotic

I wanted to send Lydia (5) to a summer day camp this year, but that nonsense is expensive! So I’ve been doing our own little day camp here at home. Every week has a different theme. We start the week off at the library learning how to find books about our theme. Then we do a couple days of reading, crafts and activities.

This week, since it’s the 4th of July, we’re learning about America’s history. Our crafts for the week are about the flag and George Washington. I wanted something that gave a nod to the women of the Revolution, so I added a Betsy Ross craft.

I found out today that Betsy Ross may not have been the person who sewed the first American flag. I’m so disappointed, but even more so, I’m so disappointed that she was the only female figure from the Revolution I could think of in a pinch. I can rattle off several male figures of the Revolution and what they did, but where were the women? Obviously, I needed to do some research.

Lydia and I found the children’s picture book, Independent Dames by Laurie Halse Anderson. You can buy it on Amazon here, and I recommend that you do! I’m going to!

We learned that things didn’t really start hopping in the independence arena until the women started boycotting British goods. Chocolate, coffee and cider became the drinks of choice, rather than tea. Women and girls, calling themselves the Daughters of Liberty, met together and had spinning bees to make their own clothing instead of purchasing British cloth.

As the war progressed, the British soldiers entered people’s homes and forced the women to cook and clean for them while they lived there. The women would eavesdrop on the soldiers’ plans and send coded messages in buttons, bags of flour and balls of yarn to the front.

When the troops were out of clothes, food, blankets and guns, some American soldiers mutinied. (Did you know that? I didn’t!) Congress simply couldn’t supply the army with what they needed. So a group of women from Philadelphia went door to door asking for donations. This behavior was not ladylike, but they did it anyway. Women around the country began to do the same. They collected thousands of dollars, and wanted to send it to the soldiers. George Washington was worried the weary soldiers would take the money and run, so he wouldn’t accept the money. What to do? The women used the money to purchase linen and sewed more than 2,000 shirts for the soldiers.

I don’t want to diminish the work or the bravery of the regular men who fought. It would have been painful for a devoted husband and father to leave his family behind while he went off to battle to fight under extreme conditions.

The male soldiers endured hell, but what about the bravery of untrained women and children desperately trying to survive back at home — women like Jane Thomas, who armed her children when a group of Loyalist soldiers attacked her home? The family’s rapid firing convinced the Loyalists that the house was full of soldiers. When they charged the building, Jane stepped onto her porch with a sword — a sword! — and dared those suckers to attack. They retreated!

What about Nancy Hart, whose home was invaded by Loyalist soldiers. Ordered to cook for the men, she served them dinner and got them drunk as skunks on whiskey. She then stole one of their rifles, shot a man and held the others hostage while she sent her daughter to run for help.

My gosh! The women and children were fighting this war right along with the men. Someone please teach this in school!

Talk about fierce. Talk about committed. Talk about Mama Bear. Talk about take charge and make a difference. Women are inherently strong. Women are equipped for greatness.

And now it’s 2013. We have “mommy wars,” where women hurl insults at each other for personal mothering, working and housekeeping choices. We compare and contrast, and always try to make our lifestyles come out the victors in some war that isn’t really there and isn’t worth joining.

These talking points are nothing more than stupid, pointless distractions. Look at what women have done, whether the textbooks acknowledge those accomplishments or not. Look at how the collective energy of women got the ball rolling in our country’s fight for independence when they banded together and refused to let the English make choices about their
American economy. Look at the ingenious ways they collected and transmitted crucial intelligences to the commanders of the soldiers. Look at how they got supplies for the soldiers when Congress couldn’t. Look at how they protected their children and their homes. They were lionesses!

These were women who were far more limited in their spheres than we are today. They didn’t work outside the home, they didn’t attend school (Boys were allowed to go to school for a few weeks a year, but girls had to be instructed at home.), their housework was far more demanding so they spent most of their lives at home. But when it came time to battle, they were fierce and effective.

If we, one by one, abandon the drama and the distractions designed to make us compete with each other, we can accomplish the marvelous. We have an incredibly rich heritage, and it’s important to know a woman’s strength — because it’s our responsibility to live up to it in whatever sphere we currently occupy.

Want More?

Get Exclusive Access to a New Story!

View all contributions by

Comments on this entry are closed.