Women and the American Revolution: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Richard Bell

Women and the American Revolution: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Richard Bell


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The revolutionary war was fought on battlefields, in forests, and on the homefront—and the contributions of American women shaped the fight at every turn. They did this in every way imaginable, and while some prospered and thrived when the war came, others faltered and fell. Many American women fought for the patriot cause while almost as many others fought to stop them. The incredible spectrum of female participation in America’s founding conflict defies easy categorization and reminds us that the legacy of the revolution for American women was not simple, single, or remotely cut and dried.

This four-part course examines the varied roles of women in the American Revolution. Lecture one explores the life of Jane Mecom, the beloved but beggared sister of Benjamin Franklin whose rollercoaster ride through the American Revolution illuminates the experiences of other women on society’s bottom ranks. Lecture two pushes deep into the war itself to reconstruct the wartime experiences of Deborah Sampson, the 21-year-old weaver who disguised herself as a man to serve 17 distinguished months in George Washington’s Continental Army.

Lecture three tells the story of Molly Brant, the Native Mohawk woman who spent the war trying to hold together the fragile military alliance between the Iroquois League and the British Army. Lecture four then follows the story of the American Revolution into the Early Republic, using the life of Maine midwife Martha Ballard to understand how women’s lives changed—and stayed the same—after the patriots won the war.

 

Lecture 1: Jane Mecom

This first lecture reconstructs the American Revolution from the perspective of Jane Mecom, the widow of a Boston shopkeeper—and the favorite little sister of Benjamin Franklin. During the war, Jane would be menaced by soldiers and made a refugee. She would lose her home and her possessions. All this was sadly typical for many other poor women brought low by the revolutionary crisis.

Lecture 2: Deborah Sampson

This second lecture tells the extraordinary story of Deborah Sampson, the young Massachusetts woman who disguised herself as a man named Robert Shurtleff in order to fight in the Continental Army. It poses some simple questions: Who was she? Why did she do it? How did she get away with it? And how did her wartime adventures in George Washington’s Army change her life?

Lecture 3: Molly Brant

This third lecture explores the American Revolution in Indian Country by focusing upon a Native Mohawk known to us as Molly Brant, the widow of a powerful British diplomat. Straddling two worlds – British and Iroquois – Molly spent the war trying to fill the political vacuum created by her husband’s death and quickly emerged as the most important military and cultural broker in Native America.

Lecture 4: Martha Ballard

This last lecture tells the story of a Maine midwife named Martha Ballard, a quiet, dutiful wife, a busy mother, and a kind neighbor whose life was lived entirely in some very small towns. For that reason, perhaps, although she lived through many exciting changes in urban women’s sexual and political circumstances, her life seems – on the surface at least – to have been almost untouched by the eighteenth-century gender revolution.

Dr. Richard Bell is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and is the recipient of the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar award. He has won more than a dozen teaching awards and has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, and the Library of Congress. He has published a number of books; his latest is "Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home".

 

How does it work?

This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in American history, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $140 for four lectures.

Is a recording available?

In general, our courses are not recorded. However, if you need to miss a lecture please let us know in advance and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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