Women in the Revolutionary War: The Unsung Heroes of America's Foundation

Women in the Revolutionary War: The Unsung Heroes of America's Foundation

September 16, 2023

Somewhere in the many lined libraries and historical museums of the world, the significant contributions of women in America's rise to power have been overlooked. When we think of big events throughout our nation’s founding, we often quickly envision Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, or George Washington more than others. 

The reality is far different. Countless tales of female warriors, spies, writers, and leaders are Woven into the intrinsic and diverse fabric of our nation’s birth. Women who, with undeniable resilience, determination, and intelligence, have become the unsung heroes and foundation of the world we see today. If we want to recognize the indomitable spirit of the United States, we must realize that women are essential to that ideal. 

As a Female Financial Advisor for several decades, I have been a strong proponent of women’s rights and all that women have contributed to society. Through Financial Coaching, Retirement Planning, and Investment Management, my women clients know their future is brighter by working with me. 

In this article, I share my passion for women to be acknowledged for their contributions to society as well as revolutionary war. 

The Myth of Women in American History 

For centuries, the narrative of American history has predominately been framed through the lens of the many achievements of men. This is because, at the time, women could not legally own property. We were not allowed to control any of the money in the household, even though we did the majority of spending. We could not sign any legal document and were represented by fathers, brothers, or husbands in public matters. 

This presented a skewed representation of the country’s formation and progress, perpetuating a myth that women were merely passive bystanders or secondary characters in the margins while men took center stage. However, it was this very war that led to massive change.  

Women began getting formal education, became more involved in politics, and started demanding their voices be heard in ways that had not happened before. The birth of our country is, in many ways, the birth of women’s liberation. This is often because of incredible women leaders that often go overlooked. 

The Roles of Women in the American Revolution 

Beyond homemakers or side characters, women were thinkers, fighters, and leaders during the Revolutionary War. Their roles transcended societal expectations, making them integral to the American Revolution and its success. Finding a long list of incredible women doesn't take much research, but let’s hit on some of the more famous. 

01 | Abigail Adams

More than just a first lady married to John Adams, Abigail fiercely advocated for women's rights. Her letters to her husband displayed her remarkable intellect and urged him to "remember the ladies" when crafting the new nation's laws. Adams was a strong opponent of slavery and supported women’s education as a pathway to empowerment and freedom. 

02 | Mercy Otis Warren

A writer and playwright, Warren was an influential propagandist for the American cause. Her works captured the essence of the revolutionary spirit and the demand for independence. Every word she laid into the annuals of history showcased her patriotism, including the well-known section: “American stands armed with resolution and virtue, but she still recoils at the idea of drawing the sword against the nation from whence she derived her origin.”  

If you want a sampling, check out History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution written in 1805.  

03 | Phillis Wheatley

An enslaved woman who became the first African American woman to publish a book of poetry in 1773. Her writings showcased the capacity of African Americans and emphasized their need for freedom and equality. As a Bostonian, her collection Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, shook both sides of the Atlantic, even after a poem she personally read to George Washington became the key to winning her freedom in 1778.  

You can see an original copy of these works in the Boston Atheneum, a private library located in the Beacon Hill district. 

04 | Sybil Ludington

Often referred to as the female Paul Revere, at just 16, she rode twice the distance of Revere to warn of British attacks, showcasing the bravery of young women in history. From Putnam and Dutchess Counties in New York, Ludington’s call to arms during a driving rainstorm in April of 1777 rallied local militia to defend against a British force in Danbury, CT.  

A fantastic statue is dedicated to this ride in Carmel, NY, where the Daughters of the American Revolution maintain it. 

05 | Betsy Ross

The mythic status of Betsy Ross has been celebrated across all kinds of popular media, from books to children’s TV shows. While debates continue about her role in creating the first American flag, Ross's narrative remains an enduring part of our nation's origin story, highlighting women's contribution to iconic symbols of Americana.  

While historical documents are scarce, the signed testimonials of many family members and the representation of Betsy Ross on a US stamp on January 2, 1952, have cemented this legend into the very fabric of our founding. Who knew sewing fabric could have such an influence on our history? 

Little Known Facts About Women During the Revolution 

So many other examples could quickly fill a book or a Netflix streaming series (cough, cough – give us a call execs!). Whenever you look into the historical events surrounding the American Revolutionary War, women are almost always directly involved and standing by, prepared to give everything they could for the cause. Some of the more common ways included: 

  • Women Fought in the War- Women like Deborah Sampson disguised themselves as men and fought valiantly for the American cause. In many cases, these brave souls would fight under the names of their brothers or cousins who had already passed away. Most were only discovered after receiving wounds and being treated by the field hospitals. The surgeons were always in for the quit the shock.
  • Women Served as Spies- From passing information to helping prisoners escape, women used their wits to outsmart the enemy. Lydia Darragh and Hannah Blair come to mind. These incredible females would live among the British or operate as support staff and then relay critical information about the number of soldiers, amount of artillery, or current supply routes for the militia to break up.
  • Women Raised Financial & Moral Support- The Ladies Association, led by Esther DeBerdt Reed, raised significant funds for the war effort. In January 1780 alone, they raised about $7,000. That is equivalent to roughly $300,000 in today’s funds for everything from additional musket shot to blankets to stave off the winter’s cold.
  • Women Took Care of Businesses- In the absence of their husbands, many women ran farms, plantations, and businesses, ensuring economic stability. Remember, we were not allowed to “officially” manage anything, but that didn’t stop them from coordinating local labor and building budgets so the family could continue while the men fought. We see this same aspect repeated in every subsequent war in American history, but now, we see men taking on this role as their wives’ fight—an exciting and welcome leveling of the playing field. 

Women are Essential to Our Country’s Founding 

These stories underscore a profound truth: women were not just bystanders but active participants in the creation of our nation. Their strength, tenacity, and intelligence have been the backbone of our country since its inception. 

We are a melting pot. At every turn, every dinner table, and every corner of the big cities and small towns scattered around our great nation rests the leadership of strong women unafraid to stand their ground. We cannot exclude their contributions to our history. We must raise up their stories so that when future generations of students learn about the real story of Alexander Hamilton, they also hear about some of the incredible female warriors mentioned above. 

Conclusion 

As we reflect on these remarkable tales of historic American women, it's clear that the foundation of our country is as much about the resilience of women as the battles fought. Women have been leaders, thinkers, and warriors in every era, steering our nation toward progress. 

Just as women were pivotal in the Revolutionary War, they remain essential in modern times, guiding us in various sectors, including financial planning. As we navigate the challenges of today's world, let Meyers Financial Services, a female-led team specializing in female clients, be your partner in ensuring a prosperous future. Remembering our past, we embrace the spirit of those revolutionary women and aim to guide, support, and empower every woman today. 

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´╗┐Lillian Meyers CFP®, CDFA®, EA is a Financial Planner for Women helping clients live their best life through the use of financial planning, investment management, and other sophisticated financial options.