Portrait of Esther, via WikiCommons.

During the time surrounding the Revolutionary War, women often found themselves relegated to the private sphere, meaning that much of their accepted work and socializing took place within the home and their public presence was limited. Women’s political organizations, however, sprang up to illustrate that they too were capable of the same political organization as men and deserved recognition in all regards. 

Esther DeBerdt Reed, born in 1746 in the United Kingdom, emigrated to the United States when she was 24 following her marriage to an American-born lawyer who had been studying in London. She settled in the politically central city of Philadelphia. She watched as her husband Joseph Reed rose to prominence among the community, amassing wealth and notoriety due to their close relationship with members of the Continental Congress. Leading up to the Revolutionary War, the couple’s house became a meeting spot for famous figures such as John Adams and even George Washington, allowing Esther to come into close contact with those staunchly dedicated to the revolutionary cause. 

During the Revolutionary War, her devotion to the cause grew exponentially, and her allegiance fell squarely with the Americans despite her English birth. To support the war in 1780, she founded The Ladies of Philadelphia, an all-women political association aimed at providing support to George Washington’s Continental Army.  

At 34 years old, she had six children and managed a revolutionary social group to support her notion of justice. The Ladies of Philadelphia raised over $300,000 to support Washington and his army, putting that money towards new linens or clothing for the troops. While often disparaged as a small and “feminine” contribution, the provision of appropriate battle attire to soldiers was critical in maintaining the army’s hygiene and morale. Her organization directly contributed to the sewing of 2,200 shirts for volunteer Revolutionaries. 

For her incredible efforts, DeBerdt Reed was named a Daughters of Liberty, the most prestigious and elite title a female revolutionary could earn at the time. Unfortunately, shortly after this occurrence, Esther DeBerdt Reed passed away from Dystentary at the age of 34. Her life and legacy moved thousands of women, including the daughter of Benjamin Franklin, who took over her position upon her passing. Despite her short life, Esther’s contributions were significant and impactful, reminding everyone that women played an important role in all parts of the revolution and that their support was critical to the American victory against Britain. 

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