When most think of the American Revolution they assume it to about men, usually white men of elite status. They were after all the ones who lead the armies, fought the battles and came together in legislative assemblies to create a new government for the newley independent America free from the British crown. Only within the past century and half did the question arise about what did the American Revolution mean for women? After the development of social history in the 1970s, women’s history in 1980 and gender history in 1990s did both scholars and no scholars come to a realization on the critical question did the American Revolution benefit women? The revolution did change the way women were perceived in society. The Social and political affairs after the American Revolution resulted in no significant differences for women.
Before the American Revolution, Colonial Women’s legal status was governed by the British Common Law. Women’s roles in in the 18th century was limited to childbearing and child rearing all in while maintaining the household. Motherhood and marriage are what shaped the lives of 18th century women. Due to high demands in household duties it limited their ability to pursue any nondomestic activities. Before marriage women were the subjects of their fathers but once married, they adopted the identity of their husband. Under the Doctrine of Coverture, upon marriage any property or wealth under a women’s name rightfully became her husband’s and prohibited their rights to buy, sell or manage property under their name (Krawczynski,2007) Women were denied the right to sign contracts, file lawsuits or testify in court and any wages earned belonged to their husband. Even the newspaper at the time such as the “Virginia Gazette’ instructed women to “overlook not the important word OBEY” (Lewis,1994). Thomas Jefferson the founding father and the third president of America told his recently married daughter that “the happiness of your life depends now on continuing to please a single person. To this all other objects must be secondary” (Lewis,1994).
There was only one for women to contribute to the economy and was under the condition of the “death of her husband, a woman might engage in male occupation” (Lewis,1994). However, they were still accepted to perform their domestic duties. women participated in occupations such as tavern keepers, served as inn or became shopkeepers. One of the most defining moment in the eighteenth century for women was Clementina Rind; after the death of her husband she became the editor of the Virginia Gazette much like those women who became widowed and would take on occupation like being stonecutters, millers, shopkeepers and replace their husbands(Lewis,1994).
Women who were of elite status were to have proper demeanor being very modest, chaste and sweet. Abigail Adams; the wife of the founding father and 4th present of the united states John Quincy Adam’s was one of the earliest elite women of status to take initiative for women’s rights .Through the exchange of letters between her and husband, Abigail urged for the reconsideration of laws concerning women’s place in society . She asked for Adam to “remember the ladies” (Crane, 1999) when it came to writing law revolving around them (Crane, 1999) and “be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors” (Crane, 1999) to bring upon change and give a little power to them (Crane, 1999). While arguing not to put such “such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands” (Crane, 1999). She also threatened to form a rebellion if attention was not paid towards women and stated “[we] will not hold ourselves bound by any law in which we have no voice or representation” (Crane, 1999). Despites Abigail’s effort John acknowledged he letters with humor stating he “cannot but laugh” (Crane, 1999) insisting to Abigail to not “repeal the masculine system”
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(Crane, 1999). Adam’s was aware of the male dominance but rather then bringing the issue to light he dismissed Abigail’s claims stating that men are just “subject and “have only the name of masters” (Crane, 1999).
However, the Revolution did not make women full citizen of newly independent America bit it was a steppingstone as it allowed Women the opportunities to broaden their social aspect. During the revolution women’s ideology changed significantly. Women were considered to be morally weaker than men until the mid of the eighteenth century “and like their mother Eve, dangerously prone to sin” (Lewis,1994). However, these views dramatically changed with a more liberal and optimistic Protestantism, Sentimentalism, and Republicanism view. These Ideologies viewed women in more positive demeanor. The changes in views towards women came so rapidly that “by the turn of the century, some held hope that virtuous womanhood would redeem the entire nation, if not the whole world” (Lewis,1994). Like all revolution the brakes would eventually be applied but not before some significant changes that will alter women’s lives and status. For example, in New Jerseys, unmarried women who met the property requirement were given the right to vote. Educational opportunities changed for women which resulted in the rise of female literacy.
There were also fewer positive changes that resulted at the hands of the revolution. The opportunities of women profession and work decreased significantly. The scope of female shopkeepers, midwives, and newspaper editors became rare and became male dominant role. The American Constitution was more Liberal than Republican even though, the Republican thoughts were valued they were not represented in James Madison Government one of the founding father and later on became the 4th President of America. Madison put in the Federalist, NO 51 “If men were angles, no government would be necessary” (Lewis,1994). Hence, the term “Virtue” being losing its public meaning which the Republican had attached themselves to and associated with women. Therefore, women were still not granted the right to participate in political role and were only limited to exercise their political influence indirectly through male relatives and friend but never to be talked about on their own.
In conclusion, even after the American Revolution women were still denied the basic rights of voting and participating in political. The Revolution did alleviate traditional gender roles and increased women’s interest in public affairs but, was not sufficient enough to elevate women status in society to that of man.
- Crane, E. (1999). Political Dialogue and the Spring of Abigail’s Discontent. The William and Mary Quarterly, 56(4), 745-774. doi:10.2307/2674234 Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25162982
- Krawczynski, K. (2007). History in dispute: The American Revolution, 1763-1789. Farmington Hills, Mi: St. James Press. Retrieved from ryerson.summon.serialssolutions.com.
- Lewis, J. (1994). Women and the American Revolution. OAH Magazine of History, 8(4), 23-26. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25162982
- Oberg, B. (2019) Women in the American Revolution: Gender, Politics, and the Domestic World. University of Virginia Press. Retrieved from ryerson.summon.serialssolutions.com.