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Women in the American Revolution

October 18, 2010 | NeW Staff

I have a paper coming up for my American Revolution history class, and we have the freedom to choose any topic that relies heavily on primary sources. I am very excited since I get the chance to sift through newspapers, letters, and diaries from the 18th century.

As I pondered my thesis, I considered how the Enlightenment period and Great Awakening had such a profound effect on colonists from the 1600s to the 1800s as well as the internal taxation coming from England. Influential writers like David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Voltaire, and perhaps the most famous, John Locke, all reaffirmed the colonists’ arguments against revenue taxes.

After reflecting on this (for some of you) history mumbo-jumbo, I was left with the question: What role did women have in the American Revolution? Did they become just as politically aware as men during that time period?

I did some brief research to answer this in preparation for my large composition and found a pile of information, but one struck me as very interesting and unlikely covered in your typical history course.

It takes place in Edenton, North Carolina. Around January of 1775, a group of upper class women gathered together to discuss what they could do to support their husbands’ efforts against British authority. During that particular time, the Continental Congress had agreed to practice “non-importation,” or boycott, British goods. This of course included clothing, tea, and other finished products from Britain. The Ladies of Edenton resolved to start having “tea parties” where they would ceremoniously toss out any British tea and drink their own tea (from their own herbs). Aside from these protests that brought together over 50 women at a time, The Ladies of Edenton also wrote a petition that said:  

The Provincial Deputies of North Carolina having resolved not to drink any more tea, nor wear any more British cloth, &c. many ladies of this Province have determined to give a memorable proof of their patriotism, and have accordingly entered into the following honourable and spirited association. (http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-revolution/4234 )

I personally find it fascinating that “third-wave feminists” generalize periods in history (prior to the 60s, obviously) as women not having a voice at all. Of course I realize that during this time period women still could not vote or have a direct place in politics, but as a future historian, I think it is necessary to point out the triumphs women made in every time period. Both good and bad ought to be acknowledged in a factual manner to get the whole story; recognizing all details, not just cherry-picking events that support a conclusion.

The Ladies of Edenton were a bold group of women who put their minds together in order to take action against British authority. It was a small step in the long process of women’s suffrage, but it was a step and should be admired in the greater scheme of things.

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