Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
When I went to grade school, the sum total I was told about women in the American Revolution was Molly Pitcher and Abigail Adams’ letter to her husband about not forgetting the women.
Hopefully this book will become standard reading in grade schools to rectify that.
Look, let’s be honest, part of the reason why history is dominated by men doing great things is because the men didn’t have do housework and get the children off to school. Let John Adams change nappies and let’s see if he can write a constitution. Additionally, the men determined what made it into the history books and also defined heroism. This is while Joan of Arc is both a saint and a witch; it just depends upon which guy was writing the story.
Furthermore, at times revisionist history can be a bit much. A course on ancient Greek women poets – who are going to do besides Sappho? Female generals of ancient Rome? Huh? You take the point. And then there is the fact that the women who break the gender roles might have kept quiet about it. We don’t know, for sure, how many Deborah Chapmans might have existed because the women didn’t become famous or kept quiet. And as Susan Casey points out in this excellent book, there might not have been one woman named Molly Pitcher, but there were a great many Molly Pitchers anyway.
So, we need to do better remembering heroes who are not white men or men in general.
The great thing about this book is the multiple definitions of the word hero. Phyllis Whitney is in here, and when you really pause to consider the penalty for a slave knowing how to read, she really does deserve her place. She isn’t the only slave whose story is related in this volume; though the majority of stories are white women (we are back to that ability to record information again). Spies are featured as are newspaper editors. We are told a story of teenage girl who does a Paul Revere like ride, but also of older women who protest in a variety of different ways. This group includes Franklin’s daughter, though most of the women discussed in the book are not connected to the most famous founding fathers – so while Martha Washington is mentioned she doesn’t get her own chapter and Abigail Adams is not dealt with here. Lesser known women come out.
The focus on women with little or no connection to the Framers makes this book a good edition to the work of Cokie Roberts and her two books on the women behind the Founders. Casey’s book presents the common woman (Mr. Policeman’s wife) as opposed to Roberts’ famous woman (hello, Jackie O). It’s more than wonderful to have such three great books out there.
When dealing with the women who were enslaved, Casey does not hide or excuse slavery, and she is very careful in dealing with family lore versus fact. When the record does not show what happens, Casey presents the various outcomes. So a slave woman’s rescue of her master does that come across as a lap dog action, but an action of a woman who is trying to endure her own family as opposed to that of her masters.
The book is divided into various sections, classifying the women, loosely, on how they fought against the British. Most of the women, with the exception of the Molly Pitchers, get their own chapter complete with further information sources at the end.