| Although women did not have equality with men in the late 18th to
early 19th century, the Revolutionary War helped to influence early ideas of the feminist
movement. Many patriotic colonial women took an active role in supporting the war
effort by helping to put economic pressure on the British government. Also, the
protests that the colonists used against British rule reminded women of the situations
they found themselves in with their husbands.
Even before the Revolutionary War had begun, women were involved in the struggle for independence. They signed non-importation agreements that made it easier to boycott English goods by substituting homespun cloth for English textiles. During the war, they set up committees that collected money and clothing for the soldiers. Abigail Adams, one of the greatest advocates of women's rights of that time, was considered a politician by her husband. He elected her "into an important Office, that of Judgess of the Tory Ladies, which will give you naturally an Influence with your sex,..." She was to keep him constantly informed of "what ships are in the Harbour and what Fortifications are going on,..." (C). In gaining such a position of leadership, although small, Abigail kindled a new light for women--that they too should fight for their "independence" and equality.
The colonists' reasons for protest against British rule reminded many women of the treatment they received from their husbands. Some women began to relate the fight for independence to their own lives. Abigail Adams, feeling that a husband was given "such unlimited power to....use his wife Ill," used her influence on her husband to try to attain more liberties for women. She urged him to "Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them...." (B). If their requests were not heeded, Abigail declared that the "Ladies" would not be bound by the laws in which they had no representation, and, determined to take measures into their own hands, would most likely form a rebellion of their own. After all, one of the reasons for which the colonists were fighting was because the British Parliament had denied them of equal and fair representation in their legislatures. To justify their actions, the women utilized arguments that had been brought against Britain, such as "all men are created equal..." and that "abuses and usurpations" lead to tyranny--to which, Abigail declared, all men were inclined by their nature (D). Those who did not actively participate at least wrote letters of support in favor of a feminist movement. They related such ideas as the equality of women's souls to those of men and that the "female mind with superiour strength" was "an equivalent for the bodily powers of man,..." (H). Being "Born for liberty," these Ladies would not "bear the irons of a tyrannic government" (F); though "oppressed and discouraged," they would not fall lower than any man (H).
Women advanced also through education. In going to school, they learned the "core" subjects, including reading and writing. Some believed that every citizen, having liberty and a share in the government of the country, should be instructed by his mother "in the principles of liberty and government." For this reason, they felt that it was "necessary that our ladies should be qualified to a certain degree, by a....suitable education,..." in order to teach their sons to be good citizens (G). Feminists encouraged women to believe that the nation would benefit greatly from their ideas and leadership if they were educated.
Though many women were not yet willing to join in the fight for women's equality, the feelings and protests brought against British rule roused many thoughts in their minds. For one, it made a number of people realize that what had been endured in the past was no longer acceptable. Furthermore, the roles that women took over during the Revolution gave them a feeling of importance and self-confidence because they had a "job" to do. The women of the Revolutionary War period would not live to see the long chain of events that their hard work had begun. However, their efforts were not in vain, as women finally banded together in the mid-19th century to establish the movement for women's rights which culminated in the feminist movement of the latter 20th century.
Click here for a grading rubric -->