“Mary Katherine Goddard, America’s first woman printer and first woman postmaster, was removed from both of these positions in the mid-1780s not because of lack of ability, but because she was a talented and successful woman, and therefore, threatening to her male peers.” (183)
The above excerpt was common for many women of the 1700s, especially ones who tried to break out of the stereotype of women being fragile creatures. In the second half of Paul Engle’s book, Women in the American Revolution, he explores three more kinds of women who were involved during the American Revolution. They range from several more women involved with the opposition, women on their own, and women involved through their families.
The first woman in the second half of this book is Fritschen von Riedesel. She was the wife of the commander of the first german contingent to help the British. Riedesel traveled with him through every battle, unheard of during that time. She had several children during these travels, but fiercely protected all of them from harm. Many knew her by her commanding nature and even the men would listen to her when she wanted something done. Because of their support of the British, they were thrown out of several houses during their time spent in America. It was hard to find many Loyalist families in the areas of battle. Over time, her husband became quite sick, making it harder for the Riedesel’s to travel the troops. Eventually, Riedesel’s husband was promoted to lead troops in Canada, so the whole family was moved with him. While there, Fritschen often traveled with her husband to meet the several Indian tribes that lived there. While many believed that the Indians were dangerous, the Riedesel’s found the opposite and lived a quiet and peaceful life in Canada. After the war, Fritschen wrote memoirs of her time in America that were published and even though she never realized it, Fritschen was a part of many histories people wrote of the Revolutionary War. I believe that Fritschen was very brave to be so loyal to her husband even when those who chose to side with the British were often in great danger.
The second lady of the opposition is Margaret Shippen Arnold. She was married to Benedict Arnold after a brief courtship, even though he was twice her age and her father was hesitant about the marriage. Margaret was often found at balls and parties where she had originally met Arnold. Several years into their marriage, when the Revolutionary War was in full swing, Arnold was appointed to take charge of West Point and at this point was still on the Patriot’s side. After several months, he was approached by the British to sell West Point to the British, making it a turning point of the war. His wife helped in that she kept up correspondence with British officers to finalize the deal. After this deal was made public, both Benedict Arnold and Margaret were put under public scrutiny and mobs focused on terrorizing Margaret especially. She, however, tried greatly to pretend she was innocent and went to Philadelphia to try and calm the general public that thought she was a traitor. After some time Margaret’s lie seemed to work and the public was swayed into thinking that she wasn’t capable of deception because she was a woman, and therefore too frail. I don’t understand what led the Arnolds’ to betray the cause and it wasn’t outlined in the book, which made it kind of confusing to understand their contribution to this book.
The last woman in this section wasn’t on the British or the Patriot’s side. Her name was Ann Lee, and she was the leader of a Shaker colony. The Shaker’s were often recognized by their excessive shaking, claiming to speak in tongues, and conscientious objection. Ann, as the leader of this strange group, even claimed to be the reincarnation of Christ. She had started out as a poor girl in England, working in factories to earn a living. As she grew, she realized she didn’t like her own sexuality, and was devastated when her father forced her into an arranged marriage. She was forced to bear several children against her will, and all of them died. While in England she came upon the original founders of the Shaker religion and became deeply involved in their way of living. She refused to sleep with her husband and spent a lot more time with the members of this new religion. While her dedication grew, so did her outbursts, and she was arrested several times. The growth of the Shakers in England was starting to stall at this point, so Ann was sent to America to start a new community. After several years of work, the Shakers were able to buy a piece of land in New York and worked even harder to create a stable community. As the Revolutionary War picked up momentum however, the Shakers were singled out. Because they refused to fight, Patriots saw them as traitors to the new American nation and arrested them. Ann herself was captured and beaten many times by mobs who thought all the Shakers were involved with witchcraft and assumed they supported the British. I think Ann was severely brainwashed or suffered from some kind of mental illness to be a part of the incredibly strict Shaker religion.
The next section of this book was entitled Women on Their Own, and the first woman featured was Mary Katherine Goddard. She published the first signed copies of the Declaration of Independence and kept regular newspapers published during the extent of the Revolutionary War. She was also the first woman printer and woman postmaster. Even though her brother essentially owned the printing press she worked at and encouraged her to get the postmaster job, Mary was always the one working. After several years, her brother learned of her success and became threatened. With the help of several other men, he made sure she was stripped of all her titles and not allowed to work again, just because she was a successful woman. It’s a tragedy that Mary was discriminated against just because of her gender, she could have accomplished so much more.
The next woman, Patience Wright, was the first American to successfully sculpt. She was the one who essentially established the first wax museums. She was able to create very lifelike figures before photography was even invented and was also friends with Franklin. After her success in America was well established, she moved to England to show her pieces to a wider audience in bigger cities. She was well received and quickly made a nice living for herself. During the Revolutionary War she was credited with telling Franklin some secrets and was deemed America’s first woman spy, even though she said little and was often very disorganized. Eventually her fame started to run out in England because of rumors spread by Loyalists, and she decided to move to France for a while. She didn’t find much success there because there was already a prominent wax sculptor who was very successful, and she was once arrested by French police who thought she had killed a man when she was actually carrying a wax head. I did not understand the significance of putting this woman in the book at all while I was reading it, even though she was a prominent wax sculptor, she didn’t do much for the American Revolution.
The last section was entitled Women Involved through their Families, and I really didn’t understand why this section was in the book at all, because all these women did was be married to important men. They didn’t really contribute anything. Like the first woman, Martha Washington. Her husband was a well-known general and eventually became President, but all she did was help him with some correspondence and keep Mt. Vernon going while he was away. The second lady, Sarah Franklin Bache was Ben Franklin’s daughter, and while she was in charge of a group of women making shirts for Patriot soldiers, she didn’t do much else. the third lady, Catherine Littlefield Greene was married to a well-known general, Nathaniel Greene, but did little else besides bear children and follow her husband around to various camps. The fourth and final lady of the book, Abigail Adams, was obviously married to John Adams, a prominent lawyer and instrumental help in the creation of the Declaration of Independence, also didn’t contribute much. She lived in the middle of a battlefront throughout the war, but other than sacrificing her husband to the public she didn’t do much and ended up having a romantic correspondence with a family friend, Lovell while her husband was away.This book might seem boring to many, and some parts were, especially at the end, but I learned a lot about women’s roles during the Revolution. Engle did a good job outlining every woman’s life in detail while also making it interesting. Some sections didn’t seem to make sense with the theme of the book, but altogether it made an interesting read. I would recommend it to people who have read a lot of history books and are looking for a different angle on a famous event.