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Patriotic Ladies: 'Republican Mothers'

James Peale, The Artist and His Family, (1795)


While reading biographies of Mercy Otis Warren and Abigail Adams, who were not only peers, but also close friends during the War for Independence, I often find the term "Republican Motherhood" used to describe them and other ladies of that time who cherished their role as homemakers, but also did what they could to promote liberty.

These founding ladies weren't "feminists," but they were intelligent and helpful to their husbands and the other men leading the charge for our independence from Great Britain. They also believed education for both sexes would be instrumental for a free society. 

Wikipedia tells us:

"Republican Motherhood" is an 18th-century term for an attitude toward women's roles present in the emerging United States before, during, and after the American Revolution. It centered on the belief that the patriots' daughters should be raised to uphold the ideals of republicanism, in order to pass on republican values to the next generation. In this way, the "Republican Mother" was considered a custodian of civic virtue responsible for upholding the morality of her husband and children.

At  I recently discovered the article Republican Motherhood  with an extract from a speech titled “Fourth of July speech by Norwich woman,”  published July 10, 1799 in The Courier (Norwich, Connecticut) and thought it would be helpful for us to read the sentiments of one unnamed founding mother:

“In every age of the world the conduct of females has had a conspicuous effect on society. Among savage tribes, where our sex being denied all knowledge themselves, are of course incapable of instructing their infant children, we see barbarity is perpetuated. But wherever man has elevated us to the rank of intellectual companions, the rising generation has received with an increased lustre the light we have enjoyed.

Though our influence be most visible when the olive overshadows every dome, and soft quiet pervades every habitation, when the son matures under the eye of his mother, unmolested by the tyranny of war, yet it often appears in the prowning tumult of a battle.

“The brave deserve the fair’ has stimulated many a hero to deeds of immortality in the ensanguined field. Sacred story remarks the chagrin which tortured even a king in Israel, when females sang to their umbrels, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands.’ In Sparta and ancient Republic, though it possessed no luxurious refinements, it acquired a sublime height in military glory. Its women were heroines, and a mother’s parting injunction to her son going to battle was ‘to return victorious or be borne home dead on his shield.’

In the primitive age of our country, witness our maternal ancestors who spurned the delights of wealth and magnificence, to embrace the horrors of a howling desert, for the cause of religious freedom. Witness the pains they endured while extinction daily frowned on its infant establishments. Witness the anxiety, solicitude, watchings, and self denial, which wearied our mothers while they cheerfully aided the purchase of this venerable day.

Let us then appreciate justly the rank of our sex, not indeed by an affection of political science, nor like the voluptuous ladies of France, who insinuating themselves into the cabinet have blended gallantry and state affairs, until the motley code has inscribed ruin upon the Empire. Nor do the hackneyed paths of Fashion and Frippery afford a just field to display female excellence.

In the narrow but liberal walks of domestic life our sphere lies. To act nobly in this be our aim. As mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, we may all be important, teach our little boys, the inestimable value of Freedom, how to blend and harmonize the natural and social rights of man, and as early impressions are indelible, this assist our dear country, to be as glorious in maintaining, as it was great in gaining her immortal independence.”

While reading this excerpt of her speech, I was also reminded of the virtuous Proverbs 31 woman:

The Woman Who Fears the Lord

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar.
She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.
She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
 Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

As the children of these brave, resourceful women, I pray we will rise up, call them blessed and aim to follow in their noble footsteps.


Dear Father in Heaven,

Thank You for these precious ladies who loved You, their husbands, children and future generations of Americans. They left us a rich heritage; I pray You will help us to appreciate the sacrifices they made on our behalf and to imitate their godly viritues.

In Lord Jesus Name, I pray, amen.


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