NPR's Cokie Roberts and Rachel Martin Answer Listener Questions About Women And American Independence

Historians in the News
tags: American Revolution, womens history, July 4th, American Independence


As we celebrate this Independence Day, we are asking Cokie about the role that women played in the fight for American independence. Commentator Cokie Roberts joins us now. Cokie, thanks for being here.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Good to talk to you, Rachel.

MARTIN: Happy Fourth of July.

ROBERTS: Same to you.

MARTIN: So we often hear about the men of the revolution, right? Obviously...

ROBERTS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

MARTIN: ...George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Paul Revere - the list goes on and on and on.

ROBERTS: (Laughter).

MARTIN: But our listeners want to know what women were doing in the lead-up to July 4, 1776. And here's our first question.

LEIGH: Hi, this is Leigh in Atlanta. Please tell us everything and anything because, per my 1980s AP U.S. History class, the only woman who did anything during the Revolutionary War was Betsy Ross. And we were told constantly that all she did was sew a flag.

MARTIN: Now, we should just note Betsy Ross and the Betsy Ross flag is in the news because of this Nike controversy. But that has nothing to do with her role in the war. Cokie, explain.

ROBERTS: Well, I certainly know what Lee is saying. It was my frustration as well to know what women were doing. That's why I wrote a whole book about it. But they were doing everything.

Martha Washington went to camp every year to boost troop morale. Mercy Otis Warren was a propagandist who spurred on the revolution. Women served as soldiers and spies. And Betsy Ross, though many histories have debunked her, I found close to a contemporary record written by the niece of Rebecca Sherman, the wife of a signer of the declaration. She remembered her aunt visiting the Ross upholstery shop and her excitement at seeing the flag. So I believe it's true.

MARTIN: Our next listener wants to know if there are any stories about women in the revolution that were so clearly eclipsed by men.

SARA PHILLIPS: This is Sara Phillips, and I'm from Medina, Ohio. Who should we know about but don't due to being overshadowed by the men, like, how Sybil Ludington rode farther and longer than Paul Revere but didn't get a poem written about her?

ROBERTS: While Henry Wadsworth Longfellow certainly didn't write a poem about it, there have been some really bad ones written.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

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