Edith Abbott, Women in Industry: A Study in American Economic History (1909)
This was one of the first “contribution” histories dealing with the lives of ordinary working women. Although it is now outdated, it provides quick access to useful information on some of the occupations available to women in the period before the Revolution. In her second chapter, Abbot looks at women who ran shops and taverns; those who worked on farms or in domestic service. She sketches the lives of spinners and weavers and those who kept ‘dame schools,’ in addition to discussing the kind of apprenticeships available to young girls in the eighteenth century.
Carol Berkin, Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence (New York: Knopf, 2005)
This work portrays women’s multiples roles as Loyalists and Patriots, wives who followed husbands to war, camp followers, soldiers, spies and saboteurs for both sides. In addition, Berkin details differences in the experiences of white, black, and Native-American women, portraying, in the process, multiple revolutions.
Carol Berkin and Leslie Horowitz, eds., Women’s Lives, Women’s Voices: Documents in Early American History (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998)
Teachers looking for further primary sources on women in the Revolutionary era for classroom use might try this edited collection of documents.
Sara M. Evans, Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America (New York: Free Press, 1989).
Evans’ survey text is a useful place to start for anyone looking for a reasonably concise and readable account of women’s changing lives, experiences and rights, from white settlement to the twentieth century.
Kate Haulman, “A Short History of the High Roll: Big Hair, Eighteenth-Century Style,” Common Place 2:1 (2001)
This article describes the elaborate hairstyles worn by elite colonial women in the 1760s and 1770s. In the lead up to the Revolution, such fashions came to be associated with decadent foreignness, with some patriots denouncing the “high roll” as evidence of Tory sympathies.
Peter C. Messer, “Writing Women into History: Defining Gender and Citizenship in Post-Revolutionary America,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 28 (1999): 341-360.
Examining histories of the colonial period and Revolutionary era written prior to 1805, this article looks at the kind of women that historians of the past tended to praise, as well as highlighting the way patriotic rhetoric lauded women’s political participation in the Revolution. In addition, the author looks at Loyalist histories that painted demeaning pictures of female activities in order to damn revolutionary fervour.
Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980).
A groundbreaking study analysing the intellectual context of women’s lives in Revolutionary America. After chapters on gender ideology in the eighteenth century, Kerber discusses post-revolutionary legal reform and changes in the realm of women’s education.
Mary Beth Norton, Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1980).
Using the private papers of 450 families, in addition to a range of other sources, Norton describes eighteenth century understandings of female capabilities, as well as examining courtship practices, work routines, experiences of childbearing, motherhood and marriage, relationships between mothers and daughters, and women’s educational experiences. Her study attempts to detail not only the lives of middle and upper class women, but also those of poor and illiterate women and female slaves. More recently, Norton published Founding Mothers & Fathers, a study focusing on the concept of citizenship for women in the new nation.
Kathryn Kish Sklar and Thomas Dublin, Women and Power in American History,vol. 1 to 1880 (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2002)
This is an edited collection containing important articles written by historians on the lives of American women. All of the fourteen articles—on topics ranging from religion, slavery, working class lives, planter’s wives and Native America women—are extracts of roughly ten pages in length, making them easily accessible for class-room use.
Alfred F. Young, Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier (New York: Knopf, 2004).
This is the account of an ordinary Massachusetts woman who impersonated a male soldier during the Revolutionary War. Young’s micro-history contextualises Sampson’s military service through a discussion of her private and public life, along with an examination of gender and class identity in this period.