Term Paper: Women Camp Followers of the American Revolution

Pages: 12 (3898 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 12  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sports - Women  ·  Buy This Paper

Women Camp Followers of the American Revolution

Women have played a crucial role in history and in its most important developments along time. The status of women in America however has been one of the most controversial issues in building the American democracy. This is largely due to the fact that women, in the 18th and 19th century did not have the same rights as men and were therefore forced to be inferior to the man in front of the law. The struggle for equal rights and the abolition of discriminatory practices is an important segment of the American history, and one of its episodes unfolded during the American Revolution and the Civil War, as women, despite the common expectations, played an essential role in supporting the war efforts and the military. In their struggle to make a difference and to contribute to the changes taking place in the society, they had to face different sorts of obstacles, from gender inequality to social disregard and color discrimination. In the end however, history acknowledged their part in the overall development of the events making up the crucial moment of the American Revolution and the Civil War. Women were in this sense part of the Camp Followers.

The present paper presents the role of the Camp Followers and in particular that of women as part of this generic term during the American Revolution as well as the Civil War. The two historical events were not treated separately in terms of the definition and description of camp followers largely because the role played by these groups was similar in nature and technique. Therefore, the paper focuses on the general idea of the camp followers during the troubled times of the American past, the American Revolution and the Civil War.

A proper definition of the term "camp followers" provided by Holly A. Mayer points out that "soldiers alone do not make an army. They are the most fundamental part of that military force, but as hard as they work, and as much as they do, an army seldom marches out on their efforts alone. A great number of other people join the soldiers and their officers to build and maintain these martial organizations. (…) Such women, wagoners, and others are camp followers: those people who live and work with the military and accept, willingly or not, its governance of their affairs"

. Therefore, it can be pointed out that camp followers included women and children, who, at one point or another would become useful for the war effort.

Another definition of camp followers also includes the preconceptions related to camp followers. More precisely, "While the word "camp follower" has come to be synonymous with whore, the camp followers of the American Revolution were generally married women (with their children), who followed their husbands. They were recognized as part of the military, receiving rations - half rations for wives and quarter rations for children - and were subject to military discipline. (One woman, for instance, was jailed for using abusive language to an officer.) Camp followers earned pay as cooks, nurses and laundresses"

. Therefore, women as camp followers eventually bared the same responsibilities in the camp as at home, but under much harsher circumstances.

The role of the children as camp followers was important and the army most often relied on their presence to ensure completeness of several chores around the camp. More precisely, "The children in the army had to work too. They were expected to be as busy as the adults. They hauled water and gathered firewood. Boys served as runners carrying messages from one person to another. Some boys became military musicians who played the fifes and drums. Girls helped their mothers with cooking, cleaning, and mending and washing the clothes. The children had time to work because there was no school in the army"

The most important role in the camp followers was however played by the women that accompanied the army because of their multiple tasks they performed for the housekeeping as well as wound relief. The choice of becoming camp followers was most of the times self imposed; more precisely, women tended to follow their husbands because their existence without their husbands would have been much more difficult in terms of financial and security aspects. Furthermore, the society at that time was relatively reluctant to accept untraditional families without the head of a household.

In order to fully see the relevance of the role women played in this period of the American history, it is important to take into account several additional aspects that make up the general conditions under which women took action. This may, after all, also represent a proof of the contribution women had to the shaping of the political, economic and social life, an achievement that had been denied to women in particular.

Therefore, it is essential to have a brief presentation of the general background of the era, followed by a particular emphasis on the condition of women during this time. The civil war represented an occasion for women to address their double discriminatory situation; in this case, a black woman for instance was rejected by her fellow white women for the color of her skin, and, at the same time, by her fellow black men for being a woman. Therefore, it is important to consider the challenges facing women in that time, with a particular emphasis on the actions and reactions to their defying attitudes. Most importantly however for the argumentation of the actual role of women in the Civil War would be the precise and concrete presentation of deeds and activities in which women, black and white, were engaged in throughout the war.

The historical background of the time was determined especially by the political, economic, and social situation of the North in relation to the South. The political aspect differed greatly. While the North was seen as liberal and the proponent of a confederate system of rule, the South was determined to keep and promote a unionist solution. From this perspective, the war broke out between two different views on the possible successful political system.

From an economic point-of-view, the differences were as well noticeable. The South was a region that had flourished due to the cotton and tobacco plantations that occupied most of its territory. However, this could not have been achieved without the systematic use of slave labor. Georgia was considered to be one of the most representative states in terms of the use of black force labor. The North by contrast, was a region focused more on the industrial side of the economic development, as they relied more on the evolution of technology rather than the use of human labor force. This differentiation in economic practices led in the end to the creation of two distinct economic blueprints that eventually confronted.

Socially speaking, the overall image was also split. While the society in the South was dominated by property owners and local slave-owners due to the economic specificities of the area, the North, as a consequence of the development of more liberal crafts and production activities, enjoyed a modern and more opened social environment, based on liberal ideas such as free trade and competition. This distinction too attracted a major differentiation between the two sides that resulted in the end in open clashes

In this wider context, women were reserved a special place. On the one hand, "the customary images of women as primarily wives and mothers not only persisted, but were enhanced by a highly developed doctrine of women's sphere"

. They were sincerely convinced that their most important and first duty was childcare and they engaged in creating a moral and elevated climate for them. Thus, the myth of the woman as being responsible for everyday chores and the education of children remained the axis of every pertinent judgment on the place of women in the society. Even more, "professional and entrepreneurial men preferred to have their wives and daughters remain at home as symbols of their own ability to support their family."

The promotion of this exclusivist image, sometimes in relation to other types of female images such as the innocent interiorized maiden defined by the Cult of White Womanhood or the puritan type added to the limitation of perspectives over the role women could actually play in the development of the society.

On the other hand, however, the evolution of the economic conditions, together with the increasing need for additional income determined women to expand their range of activities. Thus, "the actual activities and the employment of women were challenging the traditional concept of separate spheres (…") Among other things, industrialization transformed household production, created social classes of women, and drew huge number of women from their homes into paid employment.

Accordingly, women were present in factories for carding and spinning yarn, shoe factories, the needle trades or in new emerging mill towns. Even so, the discriminatory behavior son surfaced, as women were… [END OF PREVIEW]

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