Carol Berkin, the author of the book Revolutionary Mothers, explores many different roles that the women of all cultures, ethnicities, and classes were forced to perform during the years of struggle for independence. Berkin states that there are a lot of forgotten women beyond the three ones who have played decisive roles in the Revolution as companions, caretakers, political organizers and even as soldiers. These brave women include not only loyalists, but also patriots, African Americans, and Native Americans.
Moreover, Berkin’s work is based on the previous scholarship to acquaint the readers with the women, because the Revolutionary War would be impossible without them. The author wants to describe the realities of the influence women had on the war and the influence the war had on women.
Berkin depicts the different roles women played during the Revolution. She describes households of the rich families, where women were exempted from the “most production task” and started performing other activities like “beautification of their homes and genteel upbringing of their daughters.” The author also shows the duties of the rural housewife, where a “woman’s fertility was as vital as her productivity” due to the need for many children to do the work and provide the survival of many small farms.
The author describes women’s political participation during the war period, arguing that the women’s roles “were brought about by the Revolution.” Berkin depicts the background information about the traditional role of women as mothers, wives, and “helpmates” in colonial America. She argues that the actions of women in the Revolution did not blur the line between the women’s and the men’s roles, but rather served as “a prolongation of the traditional woman’s role as a helpmate” to other men and to her husband.
Berkin gives many vivid examples highlighting the roles of women during the time of Revolution. She emphasizes that the women have served as “colonists broadened the definition of helpmate to include a woman’s temporary duties as a deputy or surrogate husband…. The Revolution, however, stretched to its limits this notion of women as helpmate and surrogate husband.” Their daily lives and activities transformed during the Revolutionary period from the mere housewifery to a “surrogate husband” and protector. Carol Berkin inadequately describes the women’s war efforts during the American war for independence, “Women’s efforts to save the family resources were made more difficult by the demands of the military. Whether they were victorious armies or armies on the run, they could destroy in a moment what women of all social classes had labored to preserve.”
All the women struggled for their property. When the soldiers took all valuables from Eliza Wilkinson’s house, she said, “The whole world appeared to me as a theatre, where nothing was acted but cruelty, bloodshed, and oppression; where neither age nor sex escaped the horrors of injustice and violence; where lives and property of the innocent and inoffensive were in continual danger, and the lawless power ranged at large.” Their property was confiscated, and the soldiers attacked women. Some of them tried to destroy their things because these women did not want anything to be taken by their enemies. A lot of women attempted to wound, capture or kill the invaders.
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Berkin describes many female groups such as Native Americans and African Americans. African American group of women sacrificed their values the least, but they managed to gain the freedom of the British lines. Many of them joined the loyalists, as they wanted to flee from their masters.
However, “the majority of African American slave women did not flee. Some may have feared for the safety of their children …. Others may have feared reprisals if they were captured or returned to their masters.” Native Americans sacrificed their values the most in order to change the colonial society. Otherwise, the victory of Americans would cause a drastic decrease in their social power. Moreover, they “navigated between white and Indian culture to persuade them to fight on behalf of Britain and negotiate agreements between Indian nations and the two warring sides.”
To sum up, the female roles were blurred during the struggle for America’s independence. Moreover, a lot of women were not just quiet observers during this period, but very active participants during this conflict. Through Revolutionary Mothers, the readers can feel the women’s efforts that were necessary for America to achieve independence and appreciate the building blocks that were laid for the future increase of the female roles and rights.