The American Revolution was a home-front war that brought scarcity, bloodshed, and danger into the life of every American. In this groundbreaking history, Carol Berkin shows us how women played a vital role throughout the conflict.
The women of the Revolution were most active at home, organizing boycotts of British goods, raising funds for the fledgling nation, and managing the family business while struggling to maintain a modicum of normalcy as husbands, brothers and fathers died. Yet Berkin also reveals that it was not just the men who fought on the front lines, as in the story of Margaret Corbin, who was crippled for life when she took her husband’s place beside a cannon at Fort Monmouth. This incisive and comprehensive history illuminates a fascinating and unknown side of the struggle for American independence.
Confronting "the gender amnesia that surrounds the American Revolution," historian Berkin (A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution) offers a lively account of women's various roles in the long, bloody conflict. Early forms of resistance included boycotting British cloth and thus dusting off retired spinning wheels and tea as women used "their purchasing power as a political weapon." As the conflict became a war in city streets and the neighboring countryside, houses became war zones; ordinary women often served as spies, saboteurs and couriers. Camp followers (often soldiers' wives) provided logistical support (cooking, washing, sewing, nursing, finding supplies) and occasionally even fought; prostitutes kept up soldiers' sexual (and social) morale. Generals' wives, "admired while the ordinary camp followers were often scorned," accompanied their husbands in different style; they boosted morale with dinner parties and dancing. Berkin reaches beyond white "American" women to chart the experiences of Loyalist women ("targets of Revolutionary governments eager to confiscate the property of... traitors"), Native American women (for whom "an American victory would have... tragic consequences") and African-American women (whose "loyalties were to their own future, not to Congress or to king"). First-person accounts lend immediacy and freshness to a lucidly written, well-researched account that is neither a romantic version of "a quaint and harmless war" nor "an effort to stand traditional history on its head."