The Fourth of July is the time to celebrate the United States’ rich history and get into the patriotic spirit! Everyone knows about the Founding Fathers and their place within that history, but there are some amazing women who had a huge influence as well. Here are four women who came before us and defied the odds to make our history.
1. Betsy Ross
Originally born as Elizabeth Griscom, Betsy Ross quickly made her claim to fame by being credited with making the first American flag — a patriotic and monumental moment in the American Revolution history chapter. Betsy was born into a Quaker family and society, but left to marry John Ross. Later, the two of them set up an upholstery business, drawing on Betsy’s needlework skills. Unfortunately, John was killed in January 1776 on militia duty when gunpowder exploded at the Philadelphia waterfront. Betsy acquired his property and kept up their business, where she started to make flags. The story that is most well-known is that Betsy ended up crafting the flag after a visit in June of 1776 from George Washington, George Ross, and Robert Morris. She demonstrated how to cut a 5-pointed star with a single clip of the scissors, if the fabric were folded correctly. Though many are unsure if this tale is 100 percent true, it is important to note how Betsy Ross made a strong contribution to such a powerful symbol in American history and also how, even once her husband was no longer there, managed to uphold their upholstery business and gain success.
2. Deborah Sampson
Though I’m sure many of you have seen the beloved Disney movie “Mulan,” what you might not know is that we have our own version of her in American history. In the American Revolution, Deborah Sampson heroically disguised herself as a soldier under the alias Robert Shurtlieff and went to fight in the war. Deborah was born into a poor family, and when her father died out on a sea voyage, her mother sent Deborah and the other children to work as indentured servants in various households in order to sustain themselves. After working on the farm, and then becoming a teacher, Deborah realized that she wanted to help out more in the Revolutionary War. However, they did not allow girls to join the army. So Deborah enlisted in 1781 and soon after arrived at the fortifications at West Point, New York. She cut her hair, wrapped a cloth around her chest, and managed to keep her identity a secret for a couple of years. It was after she enlisted that she was assigned to a scouting party given the dangerous task of marching through the Neutral Ground of what is now called Westchester County to assess the British buildup of men and material in Manhattan, which General Washington was contemplating attacking. On the return trip, Deborah had her first battle when her group was attacked by British troops and sympathizers. Through her time in war, she was wounded in battle many times and still kept fighting. At the end of the war, Deborah was given an honorable discharge. She teaches us that even if there are barriers, it is still important to fight for what you believe in.
Source: National Women’s History Museum
3. Phillis Wheatley
Women fought the Revolutionary War not only with muskets, but also words. Phillis Wheatley is easily the most well known of these women. Taken from West Africa when she was seven, Phillis was sold as a domestic slave to the Wheatley family in Boston at in 1761. Although she was still forced to do domestic tasks, the Wheatleys taught her to read and write. She was an exceptionally talented poet, and wrote her first poem to-be-published poem at the age of twelve. Because of her race, she found it exceedingly difficult to sell her poems in the colonies. Her reception was much more positive in England, and she moved there in 1771, partially for health reasons. She spent several years in England, but eventually returned to the United States, in the heat of the American Revolution. During this time, she wrote many acclaimed poems about the War. In fact, in 1776, she wrote a poem and letter to George Washington, praising his revolutionary efforts. She additionally penned other poems, including “Liberty and Peace,” which distinctly addresses the struggle for American freedom from the British. Although her sought audience in the United States still would largely not support her because she was a former slave, her poetry is now regarded as some of the most inspirational work this country has ever produced.
Source: Poetry Foundation
4. Penelope Barker
The Boston Tea Party features prominently in practically every fifth grade American History syllabus, but there’s another important Tea Party you’ve probably never heard of: the Edenton Tea Party. Organized by Penelope Barker, this response to Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773 was inspired by the Boston Tea Party and took place nine months later on October 25th, 1774. The major difference? This time, it was organized, and executed exclusively by fifty-one women from Edenton, North Carolina. The women gathered and swore to stop drinking tea and burn the remaining tea they owned. News of the protest made waves once word got back to Britain, where it was met with mockery and ridicule, while in America the response was largely supportive. Although Barker’s tea party is often missing in history books, overshadowed by its male counterpart, this was a hugely significant aspect of American History because it was the first (of many) documented acts of organized resistance by women in America. In that regard, the Edenton Tea Party was truly revolutionary.
Source: North Carolina History Project