The revolutionary generation included numerous women who contributed to the struggle for independence. Deborah Sampson, the daughter of a poor Massachusetts farmer, disguised herself as a man and in 1782, at age twenty-one, enlisted in the Continental army. Sampson displayed remarkable courage, participating in several battles and extracting a bullet from her own leg so as not to have a doctor discover her identity. Ultimately, her commanding officer discovered her secret but kept it to himself, and she was honorably discharged at the end of the war. Years later, Congress awarded her a soldier’s pension. Other patriotic women participated in crowd actions against merchants accused of seeking profits by holding goods off the market until their prices rose, contributed homespun goods to the army, and passed along information about British army movements.

In this painting from 1797, Deborah Sampson, who donned men’s clothes to fight in the War of Independence, is portrayed in genteel female attire.

In Philadelphia, Esther Reed, the wife of patriot leader Joseph Reed, and Sarah Franklin Bache, the daughter of Benjamin Franklin, organized a Ladies’ Association to raise funds to assist American soldiers. They issued public broadsides calling for the “women of America” to name a “Treasuress” in each county in the United States who would collect funds and forward them to the governor’s wife or, if he were unmarried, to “Mistress Washington.” Referring to themselves as “brave Americans” who had been “born for liberty,” the Ladies’ Association illustrated how the Revolution was propelling women into new forms of public activism.

Within American households, women participated in the political discussions unleashed by independence. “Was not every fireside,” John Adams later recalled, “a theater of politics?” Adams’s own wife, Abigail Adams, as has been mentioned, was a shrewd analyst of public affairs. Mercy Otis Warren—the sister of James Otis and husband of James Warren, a founder of the Boston Committee of Correspondence—was another commentator on politics. She promoted the revolutionary cause in poems and dramas and later published a history of the struggle for independence.

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