O'TOOLE: Remembering our Founding Mothers

I’m thinking ahead today to Independence Day and the long holiday weekend. I’m thinking about a day off work and fireworks; and hot dogs, hamburgers and s’mores cooked over flame.
Jul 2, 2014


I’m reminded to stock up on mosquito repellant, sunscreen, flags and all things red, white and blue.

I’m also reminded that July 4, 1776, is the day the Declaration of Independence was signed and we Americans declared that we weren’t gonna’ take anymore of King George’s taxation without representation. We weren’t gonna’ let nobody across the ocean tell us how to worship or how to live our lives.

I think about how it took eight years of fighting the American Revolution to convince England once and for all that we weren’t kidding around. We wanted to be free and we were willing to die for it.

By “we” I mean the people who were actually alive in 1776. I think of George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. I think of Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere.

And then I think: Why do we always talk about the Founding Fathers? What about the Founding Mothers?

I do what I always do when troubled by such questions: I Google. And then I go to Loutit District Library and check out a stack of books.

All of the books I found about women in the Revolution are written by women. My favorite so far is “Glory, Passion, and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American Revolution” by Melissa Lukeman Bohrer. Talk about strong women. Talk about ladies who directly influenced the outcome of the war. These are women to admire, to hold up as role models.

Everybody knows about Paul Revere and his famous ride. But how many have heard of Sybil Ludington? At the age of 16, she rode a total of 40 miles through sparsely populated country and woods “filled with thieves, outlaws, hostile Indians, Royalists, Tories, wolves and bears” to alert the members of her father’s militia that the British had taken Danbury, Conn. The city, and massive supplies of food and clothing, were burning.

Sybil rode on a rainy night, carrying her musket and struggling to keep her grip on the wet reins. She awakened several households in several towns; then, satisfied her news was spreading, rode back home.

By comparison, Revere was 40 at the time of his ride. He rode less than 14 miles in two hours over gentle roads through brightly lit, well-populated country. He stopped to dine with Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

Thanks to Sybil, a thousand Americans surprised the British at Danbury the next day and defeated them.

Lydia Darragh is another woman who directly influenced events in the Revolution.

She and her husband were devout Quakers, thus committed to neutrality in war. But they also believed that all humans were entitled to freedom. When the British occupied Philadelphia and the general commandeered the house across the street from the Darraghs for his headquarters, Lydia convinced officers to let her family stay in their home. She observed the activity across the street and reported these activities in messages she sewed under the buttons on uniforms, which her son delivered to his brother, Charles, in Washington’s army.

On Dec. 3, 1777, Lydia overheard a plot to attack Washington’s army. She told the officers guarding the city that she needed to replenish her flour supply and visit family in a nearby town. She relayed her message to an American officer she met along the way and Washington was prepared. When the British arrived, they discovered the Americans waiting for them. After a two-day standoff, the British marched away.

Many women followed the Continental Army because staying at home meant vulnerability to rape and torture by the British. Some women wished to march with their fathers, husbands and sons to stay close to them. Still others simply believed so passionately in the principle of freedom that they wanted to directly assist the war effort.

Before Washington allowed women to accompany his army, more men died of illness than of battle wounds. With women to cook and clean for the army, hygiene and health improved. Fewer men deserted. Women nursed the wounded and stripped the dead for valuable supplies.

Some women disguised themselves as men and fought on the battlegrounds. Not only did they risk injury or death in battle, but they risked hanging for treason if discovered.

The contributions of Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson and other men to the Revolution have been chronicled exhaustively and repeatedly. Women’s contributions were no less valuable, but much less respected and recorded.

We would do well to remember and honor these women beside the men. Without them, there would be no Independence Day.

— By Kelly O'Toole, Tribune community columnist



Very enlightening! Thank you for your research.


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