Phillis Wheatley letter is the highlight of Women’s History Month at the Museum of the American Revolution

The Museum of American Revolution recently purchased this newspaper clip of Wheatley’s published letter and it is on display now. (Courtesy of Museum of American Revolution)

The Museum of American Revolution recently purchased this newspaper clip of Wheatley’s published letter and it is on display now. (Courtesy of Museum of American Revolution)

This story originally appeared on The Philadelphia Tribune.

Women’s History Month was created to highlight the contributions of women to history and society. The stories of successful and innovative men have been well documented, but many times the roles of women are left out. Their stories are sometimes not told and their roles in the American Revolution is no exception. History about the American Revolution never forgets George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, but how about Phillis Wheatley, Deborah Sampson and Betsy Ross?

Adrienne Whaly is the Director of Education and Community Engagement at the museum. She says,“There were so many women who were doing instrumental things. Whether that is helping out at home to run a farm or working alongside father, brother, husband or somebody else in a merchant’s workshop, artisan workshop or something along those lines.”

The Museum of the American Revolution is making sure the stories of women’s roles in the American Revolution are told loud and proud. Throughout the month, the museum is hosting events to highlight the powerful experiences of revolutionary women. They are having virtual panel discussions, theatrical performances, films, 10 minute pop-up talks and other activities that bring to life the diverse perspectives of women living during this era.

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According to Dr Philip Mead, the Museum’s Chief Historian, women played a major role politically in consuming and producing goods during the American Revolution. “This was a rebellion not just against the political authority of Great Britain, but also for some economic independence. The methods of the revolution often included boycotting British goods and that required people to be careful what they bought, enforce that boycott in their neighborhoods and to produce alternatives to the goods.” Women played key roles in all of those things. They made a variety of things. Dr Mead pointed out that there were “Daughters of Liberty” groups that worked in tandem with the “Sons of Liberty.”

“They were camp followers helping with desperately needed chores and work that took place in the military encampments in the Revolutionary War. There were some women who were actually on the battleside,” Whaly said.

One of these women on the battlefield was Deborah Sampson. Deborah disguised herself as a man to be able to fight in the war, crossing traditional gender lines. Sampson even received a pension for her role in the Continental Army, which was very shocking. She went on to get married and settle down, therefore settling into her traditional role. The museum offers a virtual tour highlighting Samspon’s extraordinary accomplishments and features her wedding dress in the “When Women Lost The Vote” exhibit.

Another fascinating story is of Phillis Wheatley, who was America’s first published Black female poet. Phillis was a slave belonging to the Wheatley family. She learned to read and write and the family encouraged her to write poetry. They valued her talent and helped her poems get published in 1773.

Upon her emancipation from her masters, she published a letter about freedom that would go on to be published in a newspaper. The Museum of American Revolution recently purchased this newspaper clip and it is on display. The letter was purchased from a private collector thanks to a gift from American Heritage Credit Union.

“It’s an April 1st 1774 issue of the Connecticut Journal newspaper, which has her letter on the front page. It’s a letter she wrote to a Presbyterian Mohegan Connecticut Minister named Samson Occom. She and Occom were both working against what they each saw as the hypocrisy of slavery and the treatment of Native American people in New Englad and America. Her letter was important not just as a anti-slavery statement, but as a statement on the universal rights of human beings,” says Dr Mead. The letter states, in part, that “in every breast, God has implanted a principle, which we call love of freedom; it is impatient of oppression.”

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In addition to making goods and clothing for the soldiers, women made other things that would help the revolution. One particular woman would create the first American flag, Betsy Ross. She was a very experienced craftswoman who made flags and upholstery.

“Her story is sometimes shrouded in myth and mystery, but historians have learned quite a bit about her life in relatively recent years,” says Whaley.

Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman was a Massachusetts woman who sued for freedom from enslavement. She argued that the state’s constitution was founded on these principles of liberty that unfairly did not apply to her. She won her case and became the first African American woman to file a lawsuit for freedom and win. The museum is showing a 25 minute film of a theatrical performance portraying her life on Saturdays this month at 1:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.

Dr. Mead highlighted that the reasons for the revolution is very much rooted in a fight against male authority. “Because the revolution is a rebellion against a man’s authority in George The Third, it presents a challenge to men’s authority in general. Women take on a lot of the political roles and obligations, informally, that keep the government running while male authority is so suspect.”

Whaley emphasized that the Museum of American Revolution tells women’s stories not just during Women’s History Month, but during all the months of the year. For a full list of their activities this month, visit amrevmuseum.org

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