Other women whose husbands or fathers went off to war did not have even a farm

Other women whose husbands or fathers went off to war

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Other women whose husbands or fathers went off to war did not have even a farm or shop to fall back on. Many cit- ies and towns developed significant populations of impov- erished women, who on occasion led popular protests against price increases. On a few occasions, hungry women rioted and looted for food. Elsewhere (in New Jersey and Staten Island), women launched attacks on occupying British troops, whom they were required to house and feed at considerable expense. Among the Indians Growing Divisions Not all women, however, stayed behind when the men went off to war. Sometimes by choice, but more often out of economic necessity or because they had been driven from their homes by the enemy (and by the smallpox and dysentery the British army carried with it), women fl ocked in increasing numbers to the camps of the Patriot armies to join their male relatives. George Wash- ington looked askance at these female “camp followers,” convinced that they were disruptive and distracting (even though his own wife, Martha, spent the winter of 1778–1779 with him at Valley Forge). Other offi cers were even more hostile, voicing complaints that refl ected a high level of anxiety over this seeming viola- tion of traditional gender roles (and also, perhaps, over the generally lower-class backgrounds of the camp women). One described them in decidedly hostile terms: “their hair falling, their brows beady with the heat, their belongings slung over one shoulder, chatter- ing and yelling in sluttish shrills as they went.” In fact, however, the women were of signifi cant value to the new army. It had not yet developed an adequate system of supply and auxiliary services, and it profi ted greatly from the presence of women, who increased army morale and performed such necessary tasks as cooking, laundry, and nursing. But female activity did not always remain restricted to “women’s” tasks. In the rough environment of the camps, traditional gender distinctions proved difficult to main- tain. Considerable numbers of women became involved, at least intermittently, in combat—including the legend- ary Molly Pitcher (so named because she carried pitchers of water to soldiers on the battlefield). She watched her husband fall during one encounter and immediately took his place at a fi eld gun. A few women even disguised themselves as men so as to be able to fight. After the war, of course, the soldiers and the female camp followers returned home. The experience of com- bat had little visible impact on how society (or on how women themselves) defined female roles in peacetime. The Revolution did, however, call certain assumptions about women into question in other ways. The emphasis on liberty and the “rights of man” led some women to begin to question their position in society as well.“By the way,” Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John Adams, in 1776,“in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.”
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