Everyone knows the Founding Fathers, right? Maybe you can’t name them all, but like most American school children, you know this somewhat nebulous group of men in the 1700s was responsible for framing the Constitution, penning the Bill of Rights, and/or signing the Declaration of Independence. In short, they overthrew British rule to start a new nation.
But they didn’t do it alone.
History books gloss over the contributions of women and people of color during the Revolutionary War – but they were there.
They were debating, they were fighting, and they, too, were birthing our nation.
The simple truth is that men like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton had the privilege of being immortalized in history because of the courage, dedication, and sacrifice of those whose names and stories we will never know.
Well, almost never.
These four women – these four Founding Mothers of the United States of America – played critical roles in our fight for independence. Without their contributions, history could have taken quite a drastic turn. Despite a culture that did not value their brilliant minds, their tireless work ethic, or their unmatched bravery, they each left their mark on our country.
As we celebrate the 4th of July this year, let us heed Abigail Adams’ words to her husband and “remember the ladies” who gave so much of themselves and received so little credit for the way they shaped our nation.
America’s First Lady was so opposed to her husband’s election to the office of POTUS that she didn’t even attend his inauguration – a bold feminist move in the 1700s! She was one of the few women taught to read and write in the early 1700s, which no doubt solidified her position as a major asset to her husband and his cause. He often requested her presence at his encampments during war times, where she acted as his advisor, confidant, and nurse. It also feels important to mention that – while we do not in any way condone the practice of slavery – she single-handedly ran the family’s business and plantation during her husband’s years-long absences so that he could devote himself entirely to winning the war.
America’s second First Lady was a firecracker! Denied a formal education but taught by her mother to read and write, Abigail was an early advocate for women’s rights, the rights of enslaved people, and the power of education. Like Martha Washington, she held her family together while her husband John served on the Continental Congress. Not only did she maintain the family farm, educate her children, and make 100% of the financial decisions for her household – she also harbored escaped soldiers, allowed the military to run practice drills on her land, and even melted down her silverware to be used for bullets. After her husband took office, she only grew more outspoken about abolition, women’s rights, and education setting the precedent early on for what the role of First Lady would come to mean to the American people.
You know that quote, “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”? Consider Sybil Ludington the Ginger to Paul Revere’s Fred. In 1775, 40-year-old Paul Revere took his famous midnight ride to warn troops that the British were coming. And two years later, 16-year-old Sybil Ludington rode twice as far, in the rain, by herself with a similar message. Armed with only a stick for protection, she successfully hit each stop her father had instructed to make, and didn’t get caught…the same cannot be said for Mr. Revere who, of course, gets all the glory.
Like so many women who namelessly served this country during the Revolutionary War, “Molly Pitcher” moved from nurse to soldier without hesitation. According to legend, Mary (Molly) Hays roamed the battlefield bringing pitchers of water to the soldiers in the sweltering heat when they would cry, “Molly, the pitcher!” When her own husband collapsed, she famously leapt into action, taking over his post at the cannon for the duration of the battle. Molly grew to be the archetype for countless women who served during the war – whether they were bringing water to soldiers, acting as medics, or disguised as men so they could arm themselves and fight the British face-to-face.
How proud would these women be to know their efforts and sacrifices paved the way for women to become lawyers, senators, congresswomen, and even the freaking Vice President of the United States!
This 4th of July, remember the ladies – doing it all backwards and in heels – who birthed our nation.