Sentiments of an American Woman2021-05-28T15:41:12-04:00

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Sentiments of an American Woman

This broadside, written in 1780, argues that every American woman must actively support the war effort to ensure victory.

The sentiments of an American woman

The sentiments of an American woman. On the commencement of actual war, the women of America manifested a firm resolution to contribute as much as could depend on them, to the deliverance of their country (Philadelphia, 1780). Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Printed Ephemera Collection.

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The sentiments of an American woman

The sentiments of an American woman. On the commencement of actual war, the women of America manifested a firm resolution to contribute as much as could depend on them, to the deliverance of their country (Philadelphia, 1780). Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Printed Ephemera Collection.

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Document Text

Summary

  FRONT
ON the commencement of actual war, the Women of America manifested a firm resolution to contribute as much as could depend on them, to the deliverance of their country. Animated by the purest patriotism, they are sensible of sorrow at this day, in not offering more than barren wishes for the success of so glorious a Revolution. They aspire to render themselves more really useful; and this sentiment is universal from the north to the south of the Thirteen United States. When the war began, the women of America decided to do everything they could to help their country win. Inspired by patriotism, they are aware how sad it is that they’ve be able to do no more than wish for success. They want to be really useful. Women in all thirteen states feel this way.
Our ambition is kindled by the same of those heroines of antiquity, who have rendered their sex illustrious, and have proved to the universe, that, if the weakness of our Constitution, if opinion and manners did not forbid us to march to glory by the same paths as the Men, we should at least equal, and sometimes surpass them in our love for the public good. I glory in all that which my sex has done great and commendable. I call to mind with enthusiasm and with admiration, all those acts of courage, of constancy and patriotism, which history has transmitted to us: Our ambition is kindled by the same of those heroines of antiquity, who have rendered their sex illustrious, and have proved to the universe, that, if the weakness of our Constitution, if opinion and manners did not forbid us to march to glory by the same paths as the Men, we should at least equal, and sometimes surpass them in our love for the public good. I glory in all that which my sex has done great and commendable. I call to mind with enthusiasm and with admiration, all those acts of courage, of constancy and patriotism, which history has transmitted to us: Our determination is inspired by the same determination that inspired heroic women in history. These women have shown that if we did not have weak bodies, and if we were allowed to act, then we would be equal to or better than men when it comes to helping our people. I proudly remember all the acts of courage, loyalty, and patriotism that have been passed down for generations.
The people favored by Heaven, preserved from destruction by the virtues, the zeal and the resolution of Deborah, of Judith, of Esther! The fortitude of the mother of the Maccabees, in giving up her sons to die before her eyes: Rome saved from the fury of a victorious enemy by the efforts of Volumnia, and other Roman Ladies: So many famous sieges where the women have been seen forgetting the weakness of their sex, building new walls, digging trenches with their feeble hands, furnishing arms to their defenders, they themselves darting the missile weapons on the enemy, resigning the ornaments of their apparel, and their fortune, to fill the public treasury, and to hasten the deliverance of their country; burying themselves under its ruins, throwing themselves into the flames rather than submit to the disgrace of humiliation before a proud enemy. I admire the morals, enthusiasm, and determination of Deborah, Judith, and Esther, who saved God’s chosen people. I remember the strength of the mother of the Maccabees, who sent her sons to die while she watched. I remember Volumnia and the other Roman ladies who saved Rome. And I remember so many famous sieges where women forgot about their weakness and built walls, dug trenches, made weapons, fought, and gave up their own wealth to support their country. Women have chosen to die with their conquered country rather than surrender to the enemy.
Born for liberty, disdaining to bear the irons of a tyrannic government, we associate ourselves to the grandeur of those Sovereigns, cherished and revered, who have held with so much splendor the scepter of the greatest States, The Batildas, the Elizabeths, the Maries, the Catharines, who have extended the empire of liberty, and contented to reign by sweetness and justice, have broken the chains of slavery, forged by tyrants in the times of ignorance and barbarity. The Spanish Women, do they not make, at this moment, the most patriotic sacrifices, to increase the means of victory in the hands of their Sovereign. He is a friend to the French Nation. They are our allies. We call to mind, doubly interested, that it was a French Maid who kindled up amongst her fellow-citizens, the flame of patriotism buried under long misfortunes: It was the Maid of Orleans who drove from the kingdom of France the ancestors of those same British, whose odious yoke we have just shaken off; and whom it is necessary that we drive from this Continent. We American women are born for liberty, and we refuse to be ruled by a bad government. We identify with history’s most famous queens, who extended their empires, reigned with sweetness and justice, and broke the chains of slavery. Don’t Spanish women make sacrifices to support their king, who is helping us in this war? We remember that it was a woman, Joan of Arc, who led the French against the British and won. We are also fighting the British, and we American women can help defeat them.
But I must limit myself to the recollection of this small number of achievements. Who knows if persons disposed to censure, and sometimes too severely with regard to us, may not disapprove our appearing acquainted even with the actions of which our sex boasts? I must stop praising the achievements of women. Some men don’t want women to do anything. They might get upset if we know too much about the achievements of our ancestors.
We are at least certain, that he cannot be a good citizen who will not applaud our efforts for the relief of the armies which defend our lives, our possessions, our liberty? The situation of our soldiery has been represented to me; the evils inseparable from war, and the firm and generous spirit which has enabled them to support these. But it has been said, that they may apprehend, that, in the course of a long war, the view of their distresses may be lost, and their services be forgotten. Forgotten! never; I can answer in the name of all my sex. Brave Americans, your disinterestedness, your courage, and your constancy will always be dear to America, as long as she shall preserve her virtue. We know that any man who wants to stop women from helping our armies is a bad citizen. I’ve learned how bad it is for our soldiers fighting this war, and how they stay firm, even when things are terrible. But the soldiers are worried that their suffering and service will be forgotten as the war drags on. Never! I speak for all women when I say, brave Americans, your sacrifice, your courage, and your loyalty will always be honored by America, as long as she stands.
We know that at a distance from the theatre of war, if we enjoy any tranquility, it is the fruit of your watchings, your labors, your dangers. If I live happy in the midst of my family; if my husband cultivates his field, and reaps his harvest in peace; if, surrounded with my children, I myself nourish the youngest, and press it to my bosom, without being afraid of feeing myself separated from it, by a ferocious enemy; if the house in which we dwell; if our barns, our orchards are safe at the present time from the hands of those incendiaries, it is to you that we owe it. We know that the peaceful lives we lead are only possible because you are fighting to keep us safe. I can live happily with my family. My husband can farm in peace. I care for my children without fear that they will be taken from me by a violent enemy. Our home and lands are safe from enemy soldiers. We owe all of this to you.
And shall we hesitate to evidence to you our gratitude? Shall we hesitate to wear a clothing more simple; hair dressed less elegant, while at the price of this small privation, we shall deserve your benedictions. Who, amongst us, will not renounce with the highest pleasure, those vain ornaments, when-she shall consider that the valiant defenders of America will be able to draw some advantage from the money which she may have laid out in these; that they will be better defended from the rigors of the seasons, that after their painful toils, they will receive some extraordinary and unexpected relief; that these presents will perhaps be valued by them at a greater price, when they will have it in their power to say: This is the offering of the Ladies. Will we hesitate to show you how thankful we are? Will we hesitate to wear simpler clothing, and plain hairstyles, when we know that by doing so we can earn your approval? What American woman will not give up all her pleasures when she learns that the soldiers defending America will benefit from the money she saves? When she learns that the soldiers will have better clothing or some small relief after their painful work? When she learns that these gifts will be even more appreciated when the soldiers realize they are from American women?
The time is arrived to display the same sentiments which animated us at the beginning of the Revolution, when we renounced the use of teas, however agreeable to our taste, rather than receive them from our persecutors; when we made it appear to them that we placed former necessaries in the rank of superfluities, when our liberty was interested; when our republican and laborious hands spun the flax, prepared the linen intended for the use of our soldiers; when exiles and fugitives we supported with courage all the evils which are the concomitants of war. Let us not lose a moment; let us be engaged to offer the homage of our gratitude at the altar of military valor, and you, our brave deliverers, while mercenary slaves combat to cause you to share with them, the irons with which they are loaded, receive with a free hand our offering, the purest which can be presented to your virtue,

By An AMERICAN WOMAN.

It is time to act with the same spirit we had at the start of the Revolution, when we gave up tea rather than get it from the English. When we gave up all kinds of necessities, because freedom was more important. When we used our own two hands to make fabric for our soldiers. When we courageously lived through all the terrible things that come with a war. Let’s quickly work to send our soldiers what they deserve. And you soldiers, while you fight men who want to oppress you, take our offering, the best that can be given by an American woman.

Document Text

Summary

  BACK
IDEAS, relative to the manner of forwarding to the American Soldiers, the Presents of the American Women. The plan for collecting and sending gifts to the American soldiers.
ALL plans are eligible, when doing good is the object; there is however one more preferable; and when the operation is extensive, we cannot give it too much uniformity. On the other side, the wants of our army do not permit the slowness of an ordinary path. It is not in one month, nor in eight days, that we would relieve our soldiery. It is immediately, and our impatience does not permit us to proceed by the long circuity of collectors, receivers and treasurers. As my idea with regard to this, have been approved by some Ladies of my friends, I will explain them here; every other person will not be less at liberty to prepare and to adopt a different plan. All plans are good when doing good is the objective. But there is one plan that is better than the rest, and since we are doing something big, it is best if we all follow the same plan. On the other hand, we have to move quickly. We don’t want to help our soldiers in one month or eight days. We want to help them now, and we don’t have the patience to wait for a long, complicated plan. Since my plan has been approved by friends, I will explain it to you, but you are free to follow whatever plan you think is best.
1st. All Women and Girls will be received without exception, to present their patriotic offering; and, as it is absolutely voluntary, every one will regulate it according to her ability, and her disposition. The shilling offered by the Widow or the young girl, will be received as well as the most considerable sums presented by the Women who have the happiness to join to their patriotism, greater means to be useful. We will take money from any woman or girl, and every woman or girl is allowed to give as much as she is able. No gift is too small, and all gifts will be valued equally.
2nd. A Lady chosen by the others in each county, shall be the Treasuress; and to render her task more simple, and more easy, she will not receive but determinate sums, in a round number, from twenty hard dollars to any greater sum. The exchange forty dollars in paper for one dollar in specie. It is hoped that there will not be one Woman who will not with pleasure charge herself with the embarrassment which will attend so honorable an operation. Every county should choose one woman to be treasurer. She will gather all the money from the rest of the county. To make her job easier, everyone should follow the same exchange rate, and money should be given to her in twenty-dollar increments. We hope no women will be too embarrassed to take on this honorable job.
3rd. The Women who shall not be in a condition to send twenty dollars in specie, or above, will join in as great a number as will be necessary to make this or any greater sum, and one amongst them will carry it, or cause it to be sent to the Treasuress. If a woman cannot give twenty dollars, she should collect from neighbors and friends until she reaches twenty dollars. When she has twenty, she can take it to the treasurer.
4th. The Treasuress of the county will receive the money, and will keep a register, writing the sums in her book, and causing it to be signed at the side of the whole by the person who has presented it. The treasurer will keep a record of who donates money and how much each person donates. The donors will sign the record.
5th. When several Women shall join together to make a total sum of twenty dollars or more, she amongst them who shall have the charge to carry it to the Treasuress, will make mention of all their names on the register, if her associates shall have so directed her; those whose choice it shall be, will have the liberty to remain unknown. If a group of women donate together, the woman who takes the money to the treasurer is responsible for giving the names of all the donors. If a woman wants to remain anonymous, she can.
6th. As soon as the Treasuress of the county shall judge, that the sums which she shall have received, deserve to be sent to their destination, she will cause them to be presented with the lists, to the wife of the Governor or President of the State, who will be the Treasuress-General of the State; and she will cause it to be set down in her register, and have it sent to Mistress Washington. If the Governor or President are unmarried, all will address themselves to the wife of the Vice-President, if there is one, or of the Chief-Justice, etc. The treasurer has the power to decide when she has collected enough money. Then the treasurer should send the money and records to the wife of the governor of her state. The wife of the governor will send the money to Martha Washington. If the governor of the state does not have a wife, then the money should be sent to the wife of the vice-president or of the chief justice, etc.
7th. Women settled in the distant parts of the country, and not choosing for any particular reason as for the sake of greater expedition, to remit their Capital to the Treasurers, may send it directly to the wife of the Governor, or President, etc., or to Mistress Washington, who, if she shall judge necessary, will in a short answer to the sender, acquaint her with the reception of it. Women who live too far away to take their money to a treasurer can send it directly to the governor’s wife or to Martha Washington.
8th. As Mrs. Washington may be absent from the camp when the greater part of the banks shall be sent there the American Women considering, that General Washington is the Father and Friend of the Soldiery; that he is himself, the first Soldier of the Republic, and that their offering will be received at its destination, as soon as it shall have come to his hands, they will pray him, to take the charge of receiving it, in the absence of Mrs. Washington. If Martha Washington is not at camp to receive the money, then George Washington will take charge of it.
9th. General Washington will dispose of this fund in the manner that he shall judge most advantageous to the Soldiery. The American Women desire only that it may not be considered as to be employed, to procure to the army, the objects of subsistence, arms or clothing, which are due to them by the Continent. It is an extraordinary bounty intended to render the condition of the Soldier more pleasant, and not to hold place of the things which they ought to receive from the Congress, or from the States. George Washington can decide what to do with the money, as long as it makes the soldiers’ lives better. The money should not be used to buy things the government is supposed to be providing.
10th. If the General judges necessary, he will publish at the end of a certain time, an amount of that which shall have been received from each particular State. If he thinks it is a good idea, George Washington will reveal how much each state sends.
11th. The Women who shall send their offerings, will have in their choice to conceal or to give their names; and if it shall be thought proper, on a fit occasion, to publish one day the lists, they only, who shall consent, shall be named; when with regard to the sums sent, there will be no mention made, if they so desire it.

Printed By JOHN DUNLAP.

The women who donate should tell the treasurer whether they want to remain anonymous or keep the amount of their donation private. Someday we might publish a list of donors, and we’ll honor the wishes of every donor in this regard.

The sentiments of an American woman. On the commencement of actual war, the women of America manifested a firm resolution to contribute as much as could depend on them, to the deliverance of their country (Philadelphia, 1780). Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Printed Ephemera Collection.

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Background

In the spring of 1780, the fourth year of the war, the future of the Patriot cause was looking grim. Charleston, South Carolina, fell to the British in May, and there were three mutinies in the Continental Army between January and June. General George Washington told the Continental Congress that their failure to pay the soldiers and provide them with adequate supplies was destroying troop morale.

That summer, the women of Philadelphia decided to take action. Led by Esther de Berdt Reed, they formed the Ladies Association of Philadelphia and started a fundraising campaign. Breaking social expectations of acceptable female behavior, the mostly wealthy and middle-class women of the association went door to door seeking donations to help the troops. Esther herself had just given birth in May, but she did not let her recovery slow her down. Though they faced ridicule from some, their efforts were wildly successful. In July of 1780, Esther wrote Washington to let him know they had raised over $300,000. Washington asked that the money be used to buy shirts for his troops, so the women bought linen and made the shirts themselves to get the most out of their funds.

Esther de Berdt Reed and Martha Washington encouraged women in other colonies to follow their example, and similar associations were started in Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia. Unfortunately, Esther did not live to see the outcome of her efforts—she died of a sudden fever in September 1780.

About the Document

This document is a broadside, a cheaply printed sheet of paper that was made to be distributed fast and far. It was probably written by Esther de Berdt Reed. Esther and her husband Joseph were prominent Patriot leaders in Philadelphia, and close friends with the Washingtons. Joseph would become one of George Washington’s aides later in the war.

The front of this broadside encourages all women who support the American Revolution to follow the example of historical women and actively support the war effort. The back lays out a sophisticated plan for collecting and sending money to the troops, which will be managed entirely by women.

One passage is particularly pointed in its critique of colonial gender politics. On the first page, the writer says: “I must limit myself to the recollection of this small number of achievements. Who knows if persons disposed to censure, and sometimes too severely with regard to us, may not disapprove our appearing acquainted even with the actions of which our sex boasts?” In this section the author acknowledges that what she is planning is well outside the bounds of socially acceptable behavior for women. She also pokes fun at conservatives who might condemn her plan by implying that they don’t even want women to know about the historical accomplishments of women.

Vocabulary

  • broadside: A printed piece of paper; often used as a flyer or poster.
  • Continental Army: The army formed by the Second Continental Congress and led by General George Washington.
  • Continental Congress: The legislative assembly that oversaw the government of the colonies, and the execution of the war effort, during the American Revolution.
  • morale: The confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a group of people.
  • mutiny: An open rebellion of soldiers against their officers.

Discussion Questions

  • What does this document teach us about the state of the Patriot war efforts in 1780?
  • What does this document teach us about the roles of women in the war effort?
  • Why is this broadside, and the plan it proposes, a radical act?
  • What justifications does the writer give for taking these unusual actions?
  • Why does the writer include so many examples of historical women?
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