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Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence Hardcover – February 1, 2005

4.5 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Historian Berkin begins with the premise that American women's participation in the struggle for independence was not restricted to such celebrated figures as Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Betsy Ross, and the apocryphal Molly Pitcher. Although conventional histories have traditionally been limited to chronicling the heroic exploits of a handful of women as opposed to masses of men, in truth the creation of a new nation required the active involvement of countless numbers of females. The author has subdivided these many stories into chapters recounting the experiences of women who protested against English policy, women who toiled on the homefront, women who followed the army, generals' wives, Loyalist women, Native American women, and African American women. What eventually emerges is a splendid overview of the remarkable contributions made by a cultural cross section of women during the course of the American Revolution. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 194 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400041635
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400041633
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #413,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Ask most people about women's involvement in the American Revolution and you are likely to hear about Betsy Ross or Molly Pitcher. But Ross may not have been the person who made the first American flag, and Molly Pitcher, says historian Carol Berkin, never existed --- she was an imaginative construct, comparable to World War II's Rosie the Riveter.

Berkin, a history professor at Baruch College and the City University of New York, has sought out the stories of lesser-known but more authentic women --- people like Esther Reed, who organized a fund-raising drive among the women of Philadelphia in support of the Continental Army; Catharine Greene, who endured the rigors of Valley Forge in company with her husband, General Nathanael Greene; and Molly Brant, a Mohawk Indian and British sympathizer who performed skillfully in delicate diplomatic negotiations during the war.

Martha Washington too wins an honorable place in Berkin's female pantheon for her annual trips to be with her husband and his troops even during the war's darkest days.

Berkin is even-handed, devoting space to the activities of Loyalist women as well as American patriots, and not neglecting the lives of black and Indian women. In fact, the single most arresting story in her book is that of Frederika von Riedesel, the wife of a Hessian general who was present at the pivotal battle of Saratoga (where her husband commanded his men on the British side), later endured captivity and long, harsh, forced travels with her husband and small children, was befriended by Thomas Jefferson during a stay in Virginia, and eventually returned to Europe, seemingly with the good will of major players on both sides of the conflict.
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Format: Hardcover
Never in my history lessons have I heard these stories. The struggles of women during the American Revolution were many. I'm embarrassed that I never considered what they went through; partly because we have always been taught only about the hardships on the battlefield. But, in this book, you will read about the many woman who followed the soldiers (camp followers), women who had no other choice but maintain the farms during their husband's absence, women who volunteered in support of the war (spinners, etc), and general's wives who helped boost the soldiers' moral. There are many interesting facts about Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and many other "celebrity" wives contributions during the war. A great book that I will talk about for a very long time.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoy personal stories of the Revolutionary War. This was a good book, but not as detailed about the women's stories as I thought it might be. It was more detail about the state of American and gender roles with personal stories thrown in. What prompted me to look for more Revolutionary times books about women was Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts. Founding Mothers was a wonderful detail of how these women were raised and their roles in the revolution.
The book Revolutionary Mothers did cover more than the white upper-crust, it covered Native American roles, African American roles, and both sides of the war, patriot and loyalist. Overall, I am glad I read it.
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This is the second book I've read by Carol Berkin ("Brilliant Solution"), and the pattern that emerges in those two is that she isn't unnecessarily long-winded and her writing is very easy to follow. "Revolutionary Mothers" isn't a 5-star book because it's a brief survey of the topic that breaks no new ground. But it's a book that can be read in a couple of days, and because of how well it's organized, you'll have a strong understanding of the various roles women played during the American Revolution.

Berkin provides nice background to gender roles and expectations prior to the conflict with Britain, and then she discusses the stories of women living in the colonies during the war -- housewives, loyalists, spies, African-Americans, native Americans, etc. It's clear from the length of the book and the amount of context she provides that primary-source materials from women of that era are not readily available. In fact, the chapter on African-American women is almost entirely context, but then, slave women in the 1770s weren't keeping diaries or writing letters.

This book included some stuff I knew and plenty that I didn't know about women during the Revolutionary period and put all of it in one easy-to-read place, compiled by a respected historian. It would appeal to almost anyone with any interest in history. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book captured the time period of the American Revolution and the role women played in it like no other book I have ever read. I appreciated the focus on particular individuals which really helped bring it to life for me. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about what part women played during the American Revolution. I'm sure you will be both surprised and delighted at your findings.
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This is a really enjoyable book, one that even non-History buffs will enjoy; such as students. At first it looks kind of dull, but Berkin does a really good job of describing aspects of the Revolutionary War that are not often touched upon; these include camp wives (destitute and poor women who followed the soldiers around) and areas of rape that women may have faced and how it was portrayed in the newspapers against either side. One nice aspect is comparing British Camps to American camps, different treatments and philosophies. It is a pretty powerful narrative into a side of the war that is never thought about or discussed, but done with a large number of primary source documents that help to eliminate the element of Berkin "making up" a narrative about the events; rather, from the perspective of the women who lived it and their own journals, letters, and notes.
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