I have been doing a lot of reading in the last few months about women of the colonial period. I have also be doing a fair bit of thinking (dangerous, I know!). I have been wondering why Alexis de Tocqueville, (Democracy in America, published 1835), when he visited in young United States in the early 1830's and said that American women were some of the most content. What is it about their circumstances, worldview, or religion that made them so content. Why did these women send their husbands, brothers, and sons to fight tyranny so willing? They took on all the responsibilities of not only home but farm or business, freeing their male relations to fight, and then gave those responsibilities right back to the men without a second thought for the "freedom" they were giving up. Compare that to the women of the Second World War, who also took on jobs that once belonged to men, and hated giving them back. Why did the colonial women make their own fabric? Why did they give up tea in favor of coffee or home-brewed concoctions ? There are stories about women from some of the most respectable families in a couple of counties in North Carolina that pledged to themselves that they would not receive the addresses of any man who had not served his country in her time of need. Why? Why? Why???
I think that these women, like the men in their lives, believed passionately in freedom and for them principles always came first. They were willing to suffer any deprivation, bear any hardship necessary. The word that always comes to mind when thinking about these women is 'strong' or 'capable'. They realized how important the cause was and as they didn't think it was their place to fight the British in hand to hand combat or duke it out in the halls of Congress, they took the British on in their own way, in their own sphere. They freely took on added burdens (I mean really, no one is going to volunteer to card their own wool, spin it into thread, weave their own fabric, and then make it into clothes for themselves, their families and neighbors when they could go down to the store and buy some unless they are really dedicated). Principles really were the most important and we can see that because they acted on them.
One of the other things that I have noticed is that the men of the era would tell anyone who would stand still long enough how great their wives were in a way most men don't today. Most men say yeah I've got a great wife and then spend the rest of the conversation talking about how they bought themselves a boat. The men of the colonial era attribute almost all of their success to the up bringing their mothers gave them and the encouragement of their wives. John Adams writes to his wife Abigail:
" I think I have sometimes observed to you in conversation, that upon examining the biography of illustrious men, you will generally find some female about them in the relation of mother,or wife, or sister, to whose instigation a great part of their merit is to be ascribed... I believe that the two Howes have not very great women for wives. If they had, we should suffer more from their exertions than we do. This is our good fortune. A smart wife would have put Howe in possession of Philadelphia a long time ago."
Some else said " We cannot appeal in vain for what is good, to that sanctuary where all that is good has its proper home-the female bosom."
I believe that because these men praised and valued what their wives did for them, the wives were happy and contented knowing that they were doing something worth while. They in turn submitted willingly to their husbands and encouraged them to keep fighting for right. That is why the women of the War for American Independence could give back the farm or business to their husbands and return to their normal work and Women of WWII couldn't. The women of WWII had lost all belief in the value of what they were doing.
All of my reading and thinking has lead me to the question of what kind of a woman do I want to be. Do I want to be strong and capable, the kind of woman that my husband can trust, the one who challenges and encourages him to stand strong and be more Godly and receives the same?
Forgive the length of this post but this is what I have been thinking and chewing on recently and I thought I would share it with you and see if it resonated with anyone else.