George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams are just a few of the names of America’s Founding Fathers. Everyone knows who they were and how they contributed to the becoming of this nation. These men as many others are known as America’s Founding Fathers. The phrase “Founding Fathers” carries a lot of weight behind it, perhaps because we now know what those men endured, what they did to make this nation what it is now, and how they earned that title. However, they were not the only ones who endured hardships and were also not the only ones who did something towards the contribution of the making of this nation. There were other people who also deserve the right to be called Founding Fathers, or better yet, Founding Mothers. In order to be able to better understand the idea of America having Founding Mothers let us analyze a very interesting lecture from a well renowned historian Dr. Rosemarie Zagarri, Dr. Zagarri was a history professor at George Mason University, the Thomas Jefferson Chair of American Studies at the University of Amsterdam, and the president of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. Dr. Zagarri argues in her video lecture that women had as much to do in the founding era as men did, therefore they too deserve the right to be considered founders as well. The video/lecture starts us off by providing a brief summary of the events subsequent to the Stamp Act, the Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress, and the New York Merchants non-importation Agreement. Dr. Zagarri then, as evidence of her argument, proceeds to relate the stories of four different women and how they all played a special different role in the social and political advancements of that era.
The purpose of Dr. Zagarri’s lecture was to inform everyone of a lesser known part of American history. Through her lecture the audience was able to not only hear the voices of these women as the video went on but also understand their motives, ideas, and ambitions for a not so distant future. Despite the well told stories of these “Founding Mothers” one could argue that there could have been more examples of similar women who gave their blood, sweat, and tears; women like Martha Washington who was America’s first First Lady, Mercy Otis Warren who fought with her pen rather than with sable or musket, and Deborah Sampson whose fervor for the fight drove her to the front lines with her brothers in arms. Nevertheless, despite all the voices that could have been presented on this video that were not, no one can argue that Dr. Zagarri’s Founding Mothers choices were enough to cultivate a desire to learn more about this obscure topic.
While attempting to dissect and analyze Dr. Zagarri’s video/lecture the history 111 class touched some very interesting facts worth mentioning. First we discussed the Stamp Act and how it affected the colonies. What we were able to learn from this discussion was that the Stamp Act consisted of nothing more than Great Britain’s attempt to raise money rather than to balance commerce. The way they intended to raise this money was by requiring that every piece of printed paper be stamped, this was to include anything from playing cards to marriage certificates, wills, and any political document. The main reason why parliament imposed the stamp act was to help pay for the cost of having troops in the New World.
Second, we talked about the colonies’ fight against taxation without representation through the resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress and the New York Merchants Non-importation Agreement. The colonials did not like the way Great Britain went about imposing this act because they were not included in its negotiation nor implementation. Therefore, they gathered in October 19, 1765 to address the King of England through writing, it was there that they wrote what is known as the Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress. In this resolution the colonists intended to express their discontent with the way they, as subjects of His Majesty whom have always shown allegiance to the Crown, were being treated. Throughout the entire content of the resolution the colonists remained tactful, humble, and respectful and at no point did they show any signs of anger. However, this was not the only way the colonials expressed their discontent since just 12 days later they passed the New York Merchants Non-importation Agreement. What this agreement consisted of was the boycott of the importation of all British goods and stop the exportation of some American goods; it started as only New York but soon Boston and Philadelphia joined in. Furthermore, there is one more key fact which must be explicitly highlighted. Throughout the entire content of the Resolution of the Stamp Act Congress and the New York Merchants Non-importation Agreement the colonists showed nothing but humbleness, respect, and tact. This was crucial since it showed the English Parliament that the colonists were not unjustifiably angry and out of control, that they were calmed, and all their moves were meticulously and collectively produced.
The third point we pondered upon was the ingenuity from the colonial political leaders as they outsourced by bringing in the women into the fight. This was something which had never been done before, it was so revolutionary and unheard of that Dr. Zagarri calls it: “a secret weapon”. The colonial political powers knew that in order to fully affect Great Britain in any way they would have to get all the colonial citizens involved, specially the primary consumers. That's what they did, they recruited the colonial women to take part in the economic boycott against British goods. One would think that the American women would have an issue with being told not to buy “their favorite cloth, their favorite ribbons, or hats, or buttons, or china, or tea from Britain” but no, despite the popular belief the American women were as supportive as expected. This is tremendously significant because these women were sacrificing what little independence and power they had; one must remember that these women did not share the same rights as men did, they were treated as second class citizens. Women of that era did not have the right to own property nor vote let alone run for office; it was a common belief that women of the time did not have the intellectual capacity to hold a political position.
The fourth and final point we touched was the multiple examples of colonial women exercising different patriotic acts. The first woman we talked about was Esther de Berdt Reed. Esther de Berdt was an English woman married American born Joseph Reed who eventually became the secretary to Commander-in-chief George Washington. Esther de Berdt help the colonial leaders and citizens by recruiting more women with the power of the pen. De Berdt published an essay on multiple papers titled Sentiments of An American Woman, in this essay she called to other women to help the troops. Once she had gathered enough support from many different women she then traveled door-to-door asking people for donations. De Berdt and her counterparts raised over $7,000 which helped provide the troops with new shirts and socks which were personalized by each woman by putting their names on it. According to Dr. Zagarri, de Berdt’s actions inspired an uprise in female support for the troops from multiple states to include Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and New Jersey.
Another great example of female patriotism that we learned of thanks to Dr. Zagarri’s video/lecture was that of Phyllis Wheatley. Wheatley was an African born who was sold into slavery to an American family, the Wheatleys. Wheatley did not have the life of a typical slave, she was not brought to work the fields, she was bought to be a domestic slave. The Wheatleys noticed that she was a fast learner and was very intelligent therefore, they decided to exploit their intellectual capacities by teaching her not only how to read and write but also “the mathematics, they taught her geography, history, and even the classics”. If that wasn’t admirable enough they also taught her how to read the classical language of Latin. During her teenage years she decided to write poetry, her talent was so good that one of her poems was actually published therefore, the Wheatleys decided to look for an American publisher to help her publish her poetry book; sadly no one in this side of the Atlantic was interested. The Wheatleys were not ready to give up so easily so in May of 1773 they decided to send her to England along with their son, it was there that she met the Countess of Huntington who sponsored the publication of her book in England, later on in that same year the book was also published in America. It should be noted that a lot of her poetry discussed patriotism and morality, in fact in 1775 she wrote a poem to George Washington in which she celebrated his excellency as the Commander-in-Chief and the American struggle against Britain. Washington received this poem with allegory and actually met with Wheatley, this comes to show that even a black slave woman during the colonial era can achieve greatness with a little support.
The next woman we talked about was Elizabeth Alexander Stephens who was a wealthy widow who lived and owned land in Essex County. Before we talk about why Stephens was so notable we must first understand that in colonial American women were not allowed to vote except for in New Jersey, that's at least during the period from 1776 to 1807. In an era where the entire colonial America was trying to win the fight against taxation without representation this was a touchy subject. Many unmarried and single women who owned land did not like the fact that they had to pay taxes even though they couldn’t vote and did not have a voice to represent them. The reason why this woman was a notable woman was because she was particularly attentive to the way the law was written. New Jersey’s law stated that all citizens were allowed to vote, this meant freed slaves and women who owned land as well. However, since this idea “violated the notions about men’s and women’s proper roles” this law did not last very long.
In short, these women that we have spoken of and many others deserve the right to be called Founding Mothers. Everyone knows of the direct actions from the Founding Fathers which led to the Revolution; however, not everyone knows the direct, indirect, and influential actions that these women made towards the contribution and the advancement towards independence. There are two points to take away from Dr. Zagarri’s lecture: The main point is that these women despite the second class citizen treatment and the inequality, still found it within them to remain loyal to their men, themselves, and most important to their nation. The second point is that her video/lecture was so captivating that it cultivated a hunger to not just understand but also master this obscure topic unbeknownst to most of the American population. I can attest to this since I was present during the discussion on February 28 where a plethora of questions were asked by my counterparts. No questions were left unanswered, however there was a desire for more knowledge shared amongst us. For example, the desire to have heard more examples from other Founding Mothers and the desire to have dug deeper into the political and social influence the Founding Mothers had on colonial America.