In the Words of Women is a valuable sourcebook of writings by women whose lives spanned the stormy years before the American Revolution, the war and the fledgling years of the new nation.
It presents original selections culled from letters, diaries, journals, pamphlets, poems, plays, courtroom depositions, and newspaper articles. These passages reflect the thoughts, observations, and experiences of 144 women. A few are well known to the reading public; most are not. They include patriots and loyalists; the highborn and lowly; Native Americans and blacks, both free and enslaved; the involved and observers; the young and old, and those in between.
Brief narrative passages provide historical context, and information about the women as they first make an appearance allows readers to appreciate their roles and significance.
Through primary source material, the book charts a unique course, both chronological and thematic. In the opening and closing chapters, writings are organized by year around events, battles, and political developments between 1765 (the year of the Stamp Act) and 1799 (the death of George Washington). The focus of the midsection of the book, by contrast, is on everyday life: housework, farming, manners and etiquette, commerce, courtship, travel, sickness and medicine, marriage, slaves and servants, cookery, fashion, childbirth, Native Americans, schooling, untimely death and more.
The selections throughout the book not only document existing attitudes, practices, and customs but also changes that came with war and independence. They also offer wrenching testimony of the fears, longing and responsibilities of women on their own—raising children, safeguarding homes and running a family farm or business while husbands, fathers, brothers and sons were absent for months and months.
The book, in short, allows women to be heard, as both observers and participants, during this formative period in United States history. Importantly, it also allows readers to meet them on their own terms and make of them what they will.