- In the Words of Women: The Revolutionary War and the Birth of the Nation, 1765-1799
The editors of In the Words of Women: The Revolutionary War and the Birth of a Nation have created a vivid narrative of women's lives in the Revolutionary era. Weaving together short historical summaries, biographical context, and early American women's words, the book is unusually readable and fast-paced for its genre. For a general audience this work will be quite appealing (although the hardcover is priced out of this range, the paperback is only $39.95) and it will be useful for college teaching.
The documents included in the book offer a wide range of women's voices. The editors have included Native, African American, and Jewish women, in addition to visiting European women and an abundance of loyalist women. The preponderance [End Page 112] of documents is from the Northeast, which is to be expected, although there are a good number of writings from southern women. The addition of writings by women in the Caribbean and Canada would have added further diversity to this already quite varied collection.
The editors are transparent about their editorial practices, offering a detailed discussion of how they chose documents and what changes they have made. The documents range from the famous to the obscure, drawing on some archival finds but largely on previously published materials (although these have appeared in such a broad array of books that this compendium remains quite useful). For the most part, the editors have retained original spellings, although they have modernized punctuation and spelled out abbreviations. Such changes make the documents much easier to read, but suggest that the materials in this volume may be better used as teaching tools, references, and starting points rather than as original sources for scholarly research.
The editors occasionally explain names and developments mentioned in documents with parenthetical notes, making for a smooth reading experience without having to refer to footnotes. Each document is cited in detailed endnotes, and there is also a comprehensive bibliography of secondary works. A glossary of names accompanied by short biographies also helps readers keep track of the many women whose writings are included.
The book is divided into three sections: the Revolution, daily life, and life after the Revolution. The greatest focus is on the Revolution, with vivid descriptions of women's experiences of political unrest and war. From Hannah Griffitts's saucy poem "The female Patriots" to the Baroness Von Riedesel's vivid descriptions of life with the soldiers, the editors have included a wide range of voices and experiences of the war. Descriptions of political and military developments are interspersed with the documents to provide context.
The section on daily life is richly varied, with sections on healing, marriage, domestic work, and traveling. The entries range from letters and diaries to recipes and household account books. Love letters from women to their husbands are particularly powerful here and are among the most accessible to readers unfamiliar with the period. Many of the letters show the tight connection between social and political life; Cornelia Clinton's love letter to Edmond Genêt declared that "not withstanding your worth I do not think I could have been attached to you had you been any thing but a Republican" (188). It takes very few words to show, in this and many other [End Page 113] letters in the collection, the intimate dimensions of women's connection to politics. For the less-familiar letters, particularly those in the chapter on healing, the editors offer helpful explanations of eighteenth-century life and practices.
The final section on life after the Revolution is the shortest, in part because the previous chapters included plenty of documents from post-1783. The focus is largely on political developments and women's reactions to them, particularly Washington's inauguration and his death. Thus the section focuses more...