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Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independenceby Carol Berkin
"While Berkin scoffs at what she calls 'Hollywoodized history,' she would be a great screenwriter for the televised version. Her heroines are well selected — a testament to her three decades of studying lives of 17th and 18th century women and their companions....All this makes for juicy reading, even though enticing readers with these riveting stories is not Berkin's real interest. Her purpose, rather, lies in illustrating the way women's roles changed during the course of this war and were forever altered afterward." Leigh Montgomery, the Christian Science Monitor (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
Synopses & Reviews
The American Revolution was a home-front war that brought scarcity, bloodshed, and danger into the life of every American, and Carol Berkin shows us that women played a vital role throughout the struggle.
Berkin takes us into the ordinary moments of extraordinary lives. We see women boycotting British goods in the years before independence, writing propaganda that radicalized their neighbors, raising funds for the army, and helping finance the fledgling government. We see how they managed farms, plantations, and businesses while their men went into battle, and how they served as nurses and cooks in the army camps, risked their lives seeking personal freedom from slavery, and served as spies, saboteurs, and warriors.
She introduces us to sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington, who sped through the night to rouse the militiamen needed to defend Danbury, Connecticut; to Phillis Wheatley, literary prodigy and Boston slave, who voiced the hopes of African Americans in poems; to Margaret Corbin, crippled for life when she took her husband’s place beside a cannon at Fort Monmouth; to the women who gathered firewood, cooked, cleaned for the troops, nursed the wounded, and risked their lives carrying intelligence and participating in reconnaissance missions. Here, too, are Abigail Adams, Deborah Franklin, Lucy Knox, and Martha Washington, who lived with the daily knowledge that their husbands would be hanged as traitors if the revolution did not succeed. A recapturing of the experiences of ordinary women who lived in extraordinary times, and a fascinating addition to our understanding of the birth of our nation.
"Confronting 'the gender amnesia that surrounds the American Revolution,' historian Berkin (A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution) offers a lively account of women's various roles in the long, bloody conflict. Early forms of resistance included boycotting British cloth — and thus dusting off retired spinning wheels — and tea as women used 'their purchasing power as a political weapon.' As the conflict became a war in city streets and the neighboring countryside, houses became war zones; ordinary women often served as spies, saboteurs and couriers. Camp followers (often soldiers' wives) provided logistical support (cooking, washing, sewing, nursing, finding supplies) and occasionally even fought; prostitutes kept up soldiers' sexual (and social) morale. Generals' wives, 'admired while the ordinary camp followers were often scorned,' accompanied their husbands in different style; they boosted morale with dinner parties and dancing. Berkin reaches beyond white 'American' women to chart the experiences of Loyalist women ('targets of Revolutionary governments eager to confiscate the property of... traitors'), Native American women (for whom 'an American victory would have... tragic consequences') and African-American women (whose 'loyalties were to their own future, not to Congress or to king'). First-person accounts lend immediacy and freshness to a lucidly written, well-researched account that is neither a romantic version of 'a quaint and harmless war' nor 'an effort to stand traditional history on its head.' Agent, Dan Green. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A major achievment. The pageant of women that sweep across the page — washerwomen, generals' wives, enslaved workers, loyalists, and patriots — changes the larger story of American independence." Catherine Allgor, author of Parlor Politics
"A splendid overview of the remarkable contributions made by a cultural cross-section of women during the course of the American revolution." Booklist
"Carol Berkin has merged the craft of the skilled historian wand the senstivity of a master storyteller with her sensibility as a pioneering scholar of women to produce the best narrative of how women of diverse backgrounds experienced the American Revolution." Edith B. Gelles, author of Portia: The World of Abigail Adams
"Revolutionary Mothers is vintage Carol Berkin. Incisive, thoughtful, and spiced with vivid anecdotes that add another dimension to the narrative." Thomas Fleming, author of Liberty! The American Revolution
"An accessible, lively blend of great storytelling and recent scholarship. The most comprehensive study yet of women in the American Revolution." Mary Beth Norton, author of In the Devil's Snare
"Revolutionary Mohters is a treat to read...a valuable and readable book." Elaine Crane, author of Ebb Tide in New England
Book News Annotation:
Berkin (American history, Baruch College and City U. of New York) explores women's roles in creating a new nation during the American Revolution and its aftermath, as revealed in the words and actions of individual women. The accounts include well-known figures--Abigail Adams, Deborah Franklin, Lucy Knox, Martha Washington--as well as ordinary white, Native American, and African American women taking care of their families; keeping farms and shops; boycotting British manufactured goods; traveling with the army as cooks, laundresses, and nurses; and sometimes serving as spies and couriers. Academic but accessible to the general reader.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From Phillis Wheatley to Martha Washington, Revolutionary Mothers illuminates the role women played throughout the struggle for America's independence.
America's women played a vital role throughout the Revolutionary War, and Carol Berkin's superb study takes readers into the ordinary moments of their extraordinary lives. Erudite, wholly accessible, and fascinating, Revolutionary Mothers is a wonderful addition to our understanding of the birth of our nation.
About the Author
Carol Berkin, professor of American history at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, First Generations, and Jonathan Sewall. She lives in New York City.
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