Girl Power

Without the help of women in the American Revolution, it would have been “impossible to succeed” (Carp, 158).

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A popular political cartoon created by Ben Franklin during the American Revolution.

Since the household was critical to the resistance to Great Britain, and women controlled the households, men quickly learned that “women could make or break an embargo” (Zagarri, 113).  Boycotts, particularly the tea boycott, presented women with the perfect opportunity to enter the public sphere and have their voices heard (Carp, 161).  No longer were women expected to do go along with whatever their husbands wanted.  They were now given a voice.

untitled1Women both refrained from buying British items on the boycott list created by men, and also created their own list of goods to boycott, such as ribbons (Young, 115).

Another example of women playing a vital role in the boycotts is demonstrated by the “Edenton Ladies’ Tea Party”, a group of 51 ladies from Edenton North Carolina who pledged their support to their husbands in a war against the British (Mays, 52).

Not only did women have purchasing power and therefore controlled consumption, but women were vital in the production and manufacturing of American goods that could act as viable substitutes for British goods.

Young ladies in town, and those that live round,

Let a friend at this season advise you:

Since money’s so scarce, and times growing worse,

Strange things may soon hap and surprize you:

First then, throw aside your high top knots of pride

Wear none but your own country linnen;

Of Oeconomy boast, let your pride be the most

To show cloaths of your own make and spinning.

As the nonimportation agreements became nonconsumption agreements, women continued to gather on their own, this time to spin cloth.  The spinning of women was very popular and very important.  Not only did homespun clothing allow America to continue to resist the use of British goods, but it allowed for success once the war officially began.  “Women need[ed] to encourage men to go off to war and to reward them upon their return” (Zagarri, 113).  Women were vital to the American victory because as men left for war, the women not only took over businesses and the work of men, but also created and provided uniforms, as well as continued to show that America could survive and thrive without England.


 


 


Daughters of Liberty

“If the British were not afraid of America’s men, they certainly should be afraid of its women” -Abigail Adams

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Daughters of Liberty wearing simple, homespun, clothing and drinking coffee instead of tea.

In 1766, eighteen Daughters of Liberty met in Providence, Rhode Island to spin, dine (without the presence of tea, of course), and declare the Stamp Act unconstitutional.  They decided they would refrain from purchasing British items until the act was repealed, and they would “spurn any suitor who refused to oppose it” (Ulrich, 176).  Once the Stamp Act was repealed only to be replaced by the Townshend Act, these women decided that they had to do more.

The Daughters of Liberty were vital to the revolution, as they were the leaders of the homespun movement.  While the skill of spinning was almost a lost art, the Daughters of Liberty revived the skill in a variety of creative ways that enabled America to successfully boycott British goods.  The women took pride in their homespun clothing and believed that it truly connected them to America.

 

 

 

As the men went off to war, the Daughters of Liberty helped in all aspects of life:

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  • taking over businesses,
  • raising money for war efforts,
  • caring for wounded soldiers,
  • spinning the uniforms for their soldiers.
Daughters of Liberty in Charleston sought out Loyalists to Britain and would then ensure that rocks be thrown through Loyalists’ windows.  Merchants who attempted to sell British items were tarred and feathered, and most likely their shops would be set on fire (Mays, 52).  This shaming remained a function of face-to-face contact and aimed at personal humiliation and communal condemnation” (Glickman, 37).
For more on spinning, click here: Spin for the Win
Suggested Readings:
  • Carp, Benjamin L. Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Mays, Dorothy A. “SearchWorks Catalog.” Women in Early America : Struggle, Survival, and Freedom in a New World in SearchWorks. ABC-CLIO, 23 Nov. 2004. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.
  • Glickman, Lawrence B. Buying Power a History of Consumer Activism in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  • Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth. New York: Knopf :, 2001.
  • Young, Alfred F., and Harvey J. Kaye. Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution. New York: New York University Press, 2006.
  • Zigarri, Rosemarie. Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.