The Sentiments of an American Woman

Why do women have a particular role to play in resisting political oppression? What is the value of bringing in historical examples of women who helped to save their people in various times of trouble?
How would Reed respond to someone like Catharine Beecher? How would she respond to something like the court opinion in Muller v. Oregon?

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By 1780, the Continental Army was woefully undersupplied: Washington frequently complained to Congress that his men lacked rations, clothing, and the pay that was due to them. Hearing the news, Esther Reed, a leading Philadelphia socialite, determined to organize the women of the city to provide relief. The broadside reprinted here originally had her short essay on important contributions of women in times of national peril on one side and the plan for collecting and distributing funds on the other. Reed’s effort was successful: within just a few months, she was able to write to Washington to inform him that she had raised more than $300,000. Washington, in turn, asked Reed and her ladies to use the funds to purchase cloth that could be sewn into new shirts. Although Reed died before the work could be completed, two thousand shirts were eventually sent to the troops as a direct result of her efforts.

—Sarah A. Morgan Smith

Source: The Sentiments of an American Woman (Philadelphia, 1780), Library of Congress,

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.

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: The people favored by Heaven, preserved from destruction by the virtues, the zeal and the resolution of Deborah, of Judith, of Esther![1] The fortitude of the mother of the Maccabees, in giving up her sons to die before her eyes:[2] Rome saved from the fury of a victorious enemy by the efforts of Volumnia,[3] 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.

Born for liberty, disdaining to bear the irons of a tyrannical 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.[4] 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.[5]

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? 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 at a distance from the theater 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 seeing 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. 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. 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,


Ideas, relative to the Manner of Forwarding to the American Soldiers, the Presents of the American Women

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 ideas 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.

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.

2d. 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 [being] 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.

3d. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

  1. 1. Three Jewish heroines: Deborah, a judge, or ruler, over Israel (see Judges 4); Judith, who ingratiated herself with a leader of the Assyrians only so she could behead him and save her people (see the Book of Judith); and Esther, who saved her people from a genocidal plot hatched by a senior Persian official (see Book of Esther).
  2. 2. The unnamed mother of seven sons in 2 Maccabees who stoically stood by and encouraged her sons to sacrifice their lives rather than betray their faith.
  3. 3. The mother of Coriolanus in the eponymous play by William Shakespeare who persuaded her son not to sack the city.
  4. 4. Batilda was an Anglo-Saxon girl captured as a slave and sold to the king of the Franks in the seventh century; she was so esteemed for her virtues and her faith that the king chose to free her and marry her. As queen, she was renowned for her charity and good works, and after her death was canonized. Elizabeth, queen of England during the early colonial period; known as the “virgin queen” because she never married and ruled entirely in her own name and power. Marie may be Marie de Medici, who ruled France as a regent for her son from 1610 to 1617; Catharine probably refers to Catherine de Braganza, consort to Charles I, who brought a portion of the Indian subcontinent under British control as part of her dowry.
  5. 5. Joan of Arc.
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