Reading Response to Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence by Carol Berkin

Reading Response to Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence by Carol Berkin
3 mn read

In Carol Berkin’s book, Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence, she highlights that women played an active and vital role in the war and that history books don’t do them justice. A woman’s rise towards more autonomy is highlighted in Chapter one itself where women are shown to be slowly rising towards more autonomy. Secondly, chapter two highlights how women took steps towards voicing their opinions through boycotts and manifestos while the last chapter in the book actively speaks about how the role of women changed after the war and gave them more power to do other things.

The first chapter of the book focuses on the role of women in colonial societies between the 1600s and 1700s. During this time women were mostly confined to household tasks and were not given the same rights as men. However, this also marks the start of the stage where rich women started gaining more power and were able to do more tasks than previously possible. Instead of having to do everything on their own, women could supervise servants while they did all the work. Proof of this can be seen from a text in the book “ideal woman of the [seventeenth-century] farmhouse? Obedient, faithful, frugal, fertile, and industrious? [To} the ideal woman of the eighteenth-century parlor? Obedient, charming, chaste, and modest” (Page. 9) Due to which it also gave rise to the role of ‘pretty gentlewomen’ (Berkin, The Easy Task of Obeying 2006) which meant that women were meant to be the loving companion of a man and devote themselves to pleasing them. We can further see the rise in autonomy in the second chapter where Carol Berkin highlights how even though women didn’t have any voice in politics yet, they had slowly started consolidating power. The first example of this can be seen when women participated in a boycott to protect British policies (Berkin, They say it is a tea that caused it 2006) after which women started printing manifestos in support of things such as refusing to use British tea.

In the final chapter, the book highlights how women proved themselves during the war of being capable of handling various tasks and being very skilled at them as well which were previously considered to be a man’s domain. However, after the war ended and everything went back to normal, women were back indoors. This is not to say that progress wasn’t made; there were, in fact, several reasons as to why this happened. Women were considered more intellectual, but their role in shaping the future of a kid was considered invaluable and was thus hard to replace. In a new nation such as America, it was important that the next generation of kids be well-education and mannered. For this, it was important that the women themselves were well educated as well. The result of this was that now women had the opportunity of being educated, but the end goal was always towards motherhood. If we go back to prior/during the war, we can also get an example from the Baroness von Riedesel who was the wife of a Hessian officer who followed him to America. During her time there, she stayed with her husband and at one point even spoke to a British officer after he was spending more time with his wife than worrying about the safety of his troops. This goes to show much autonomy they had as it even allowed them to speak to officers and that too in a teaching manner. Martha Washington, the wife of George Washington, on the other hand, found it boring and preferred to stay at home instead. However, even she felt that during that time it was her duty to be there for her husband in supporting him.

All in all, the war did give a woman more autonomy. It allowed them to study and get an education although it can be argued that they were still confined to their houses. Chapter one shows this where women are shown to be slowly rising towards more autonomy. Chapter two highlights how women took steps towards voicing their opinions through boycotts and manifestos while the last chapter in the book actively speaks about how the role of women changed after the war and gave them more power to do other things.

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