The Seamstress, by Richard Purcell after Philippe Mercier, printed by Robert Sayer, 1765.

The American Revolution usually brings to mind images of soldiers and generals, of cannons and battlefields, and there certainly was a whole lot of that. But off the field of battle, women filled important roles in the fight against Britain, both economically from home and in direct support of the Continental Army. In large part, women in North America were excluded from the political arena and the extensive colonial government–unlike their neighbors, the Cherokee, whose women were considered the heads of household and had an active role in governing the tribe. Nevertheless, colonial women found they had a surprising amount of political influence through arenas where they could exercise their politics: purchasing power.

The Townshend Duties took effect in November of 1767, laying duties on manufactured goods arriving to the colonies, such as lead, paint, paper, textiles and tea. In response, women in the American colonies began boycotting British-made goods for sometimes less than luxurious alternatives, drinking native herbal teas as a form of domestic protest. In this way, women could join in on their husband’s non-importation agreements while continuing to entertain and live life as normally as possible without the benefit of English goods. Homespun also became popular, with many fashionable women producing their own cloth at home. In 1769, the Governor’s Ball (normally a place to display the most latest fashions) was attended by women, “in the number of near one hundred, appeared in homespun gowns; a lively and striking instance of their acquiescence and concurrence in whatever may be the true and essential interest of their country.”

Although women found themselves mostly excluded from politics and the battlefield throughout the Revolutionary War, they refused to let themselves be put on the sidelines of revolution. Read a leading Founding Mother’s thoughts on the state of women in the new country in Abigail Adams’ famous Remember the Ladies letter.

-Katie Watkins
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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