Revolutionary Mothers by Carol Berkin: Women’s Unsung Roles in the American Revolution

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Revolutionary Mothers by Carol Berkin: Women’s Unsung Roles in the American Revolution

Carol Berkin’s “Revolutionary Mothers” offers an insightful look into the often-overlooked roles women played in the American Revolution. This essay will review the book, highlighting how Berkin sheds light on the diverse experiences of women during this tumultuous period. It will cover the various ways women contributed to the war effort, from supporting the home front to engaging directly in the conflict. The piece aims to underscore the importance of recognizing women’s contributions in shaping American history, as well as the complexities of their experiences shaped by race, class, and loyalty during the Revolution. Moreover, at PapersOwl, there are additional free essay samples connected to Social Issues.

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Background and Women’s Initial Resistance

Revolutionary Mothers, written by Carol Berkin, is a book detailing the challenges and accomplishments women were faced with during the American Revolution. From 1775 to 1783, colonists in the Thirteen Colonies revolted against Great Britain to gain their freedom. This resulted in the recruitment of settlers to help fight in the war, leaving many women to pick up the jobs the men left behind. Berkin takes us through these women’s lives from before the war begins to the center of the warzone, as well as the consequences that followed everyone home.

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Chapter 2, They Say It is the Tea That Caused It, examines where women stood in society before war broke out and how their boycotts began. Despite women rarely appearing in newspapers, an article by The Boston Evening Post decided to publish a piece about how roughly 300 women found their voices and spoke up about the issues they saw. Although this was risky during that period, they wanted their boycott agreement to be known (pg. 15). There was another account of poems being written to criticize men for not participating in the boycotts (pg. 16). Berkin utilized these bits of information as well as others in the chapter to not only show how much women affected those around them, but how they did it better and more passionately than the men.

Emotional Toll and Adaptation

Chapter 3, You Can Form No Idea of the Horrors, discusses the roles women took over at the beginning of the war and the heartbreak they undertook. A wife named Lucy Knox strongly supported her husband to enlist in the war as many other women did. However, she later wrote about the devastation of his absence (pg. 31). Not only did women have to cope with the loss of a loved best friend, but they also had to cope with added jobs back home. Women who knew nothing about the negotiation of crops had to teach themselves, giving them a “sense of pride in ownership” (pg. 33). Their contributions still have long-lasting effects on where women have ended up in independence today.

Native and African American Women’s Roles

Chapter 7, The Women Must Hear Our Words, analyzes the lives of Native American women and their positions in their culture. Most Native women were given leadership roles in their tribes, such as Molly Brant, a member of the Society of Six Nations Matrons and a “powerful political force” (pg. 110). However, once the war was over, the incorporation of the colonization lifestyle had drastic effects. Men adopted the ideals that women were beneath them, which caused them to lose their status and societal voices (pg. 117). These suffrages connect to Berkin’s opinion that women did not receive the proper recognition for their contributions.

Chapter 8, The Day of Jubilee is Come, covers African American women during the war. However, Berkin strays away from her original interest in only women’s suffrages because this chapter is more general to both males and females. They were given several opportunities involving their freedom from slavery throughout the war, one being a free household servant. However, they would not be allowed to have families of their own (pg. 122). The British offered another chance to be free if they fought on their side of the war. Despite these guarantees, most African Americans were re-enslaved at the war’s end; only a tiny percentage were given free certifications (pg. 128). Women were not expected to take the deal the British offered as intended for the men. The lack of specificity of women’s roles in this chapter does not reflect Berkin’s consensus over the topic of women during the war.

Women’s Achievements and Post-war Impact

Chapter 9, It Was I Who Did It, was the most exciting chapter of the book because it shows more of what women achieved in the war than the other chapters. Women used their stereotype of being an innocent female to their advantage by becoming spies to assist the side they were on. One of the most intriguing examples was with a woman named Debbie, who could get through checkpoints and bring private information to George Washington (pg. 136). Despite the strong-willed Soul it took to do this, the story that brought up more curiosity was about an African American who rescued her owner by hiding him in a laundry basket. Her owner granted her freedom because she made this sacrifice (pg. 142). Some women even had the opportunity to be a soldier in the war but only received half the pay a man did, proving that Birken believes that women did not gain the success they deserved.

Chapter 10, There is no sex in Soul, contemplates the lasting effect women had after the war was over. The opinion that women were less inferior decreased; it still only made minor changes. One of the major ones was women being allowed to get an education. They were now allowed to attend college, and by the end of the 1700s, it began to be frowned upon if a woman did not receive an education (pg. 153). However, when they got degrees, they did not receive anything after that. They used their education to be in Republican Motherhood, which was a name for the women who got an education so that they could better educate their children, thus improving the knowledge of the colonies at large. Teaching their children to be good citizens was viewed as a civic duty (pg. 156).

In conclusion, Revolutionary Mothers was a fantastic novel that established that women contributed much more than the men would acknowledge at the time because although women took up the roles they once had, they were still seen as subordinate.


  1. Berkin, C. (2005). Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence. Vintage Books.
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Revolutionary Mothers by Carol Berkin: Women's Unsung Roles in the American Revolution. (2023, Aug 30). Retrieved from