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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Women's History Month - Amazing Women You May No Know About

Posted by R. Ann Siracusa
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Paul Revere's Ride)
Years ago I attended a Women's History lecture given by a professor of Women's History from UC Riverside. Among others, she talked about a woman who made a midnight ride similar to Paul Revere's during the Revolutionary War. I didn't write the name down, and for a long time I tried to find out who she was.
Later, on a tour of New England, I visited many historic Revolutionary War sites. I asked every museum docent and every tour guide about this woman, and the answer was, "No, there's no such person. No woman did a ride like Paul Revere."
Not true! Who trains these people?
It's sad that before 1970, the serious study of women's history was almost non-existent. I suppose it's no wonder that no one had heard of this woman or the many others who have played significant roles in American and world history. According to American Historian Gerda Lerner, before 1970,"People didn't think that women had a history worth knowing."
Today, nearly every university has Women's History courses and most offer a doctoral degree in the subject.
"Women's History Week" began in 1978 in Sonoma County, California and it included March 8, International Women's Day. In 1987 Congressed declared March as Women's History Month.
Sybil Ludington (April 5, 1761 – February 26, 1839) was born in Fredericksburg, Kent, New York, the daughter of Colonel Henry Ludington. She was the eldest of twelve children. On April 26, 1777, at the age of sixteen, Sybil rode her horse, Star, 40 miles (twice the distance of either Paul Revere or Jack Jouette) to warn the Patriots the British were coming.
Sybil's father was in charge of the local volunteers. When a soldier arrived at the Ludington household with the news that the British had ransacked the supply center at Danbury, Connecticut, and were heading for Fredericksburg, it was necessary for the Colonel to muster the troops.
Sybil jumped at the chance. She started out at 9 p.m. and ended her ride about dawn the next day. She used a stick to prod her horse, knock on doors, and defend herself against a highwayman. When she returned home, soaked and exhausted, 400 soldiers were ready to march. Thanks to her long ride, the Patriots were able to force the British back to Long Island Sound.
                                  Statue of Sybil by Anna Hyatt Huntington

At the time, her ride wasn't talked about, and the event wasn't recorded. Her great grandson was the first to write about it. Today there are quite a few statues and monuments dedicated to Sybil, so I have no idea why the tour guides I talked to in Connecticut (in the early 1990's) had never heard of her.
On my quest to find out more about Sybil Ludington, I ran on to another woman I have to mention.
Phillis Wheatley was America's first black woman to be published. A respected author and poet, she was also a patriot and symbol for abolitionists.
Phillis was born in West Africa (probably present day Gambia or Senegal) and sold into slavery at the age of seven. In America she was purchased by a Boston family named Wheatley. The family's 18-year-old daughter, Mary, and son, Nathaniel, taught her to read and write. By the age of 12 she was reading Greek and Latin; at 14 she wrote her first poem. John Wheatley, a progressive thinker, recognized her unique talent and supported Phyllis's education.
Soon she was being praised for her outstanding poetry. At the time, people questioned that an African slave could write poetry, and she had to defend her authorship of her poems in court in 1772. Still, American publishers wouldn't publish her book of poetry.
The next year, in 1773 (age 20), she traveled with Nathaniel Wheatley to London where chances of publication were better. She was introduced to high society, and they were quite enthusiastic about her work. Selina Hasting, the Countess of Huntingdon, supported Phillis's poetry, and Wheatley's first book of poems was published in London in 1773, dedicated to the Countess.
Phillis's poems were about learning and virtue, patriotism, battles, and the greatness of America, but she was reluctant to write about slavery. One poem was about George Washington, then the leader of the Patriot Army, which she read to him in person. Phillis was given her freedom in 1778, when John Wheatley provided for her freedom in his will. Soon after, his daughter Mary died.
Phillis married a free black grocer, but they lived in poor conditions and lost two babies. She died in childbirth in 1784 at the age of 31.
"In every human Beast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance."
——Phillis Wheatley

Sybil Luddington 2.jpg


Judy Baker said...

OMG, I never knew anything or heard of these two women, makes me wonder how many more are never spoken about. Thanks for sharing.

Melissa Keir said...

Thanks for sharing. I knew about Phyllis and have read her works. There were also a woman who secretly became a Pony Express rider. Her story is told in the children's book Riding Freedom, and there was a female surgeon who masqueraded as a man during the Civil War. Both of these women had to hide their feminine qualities but still stood up for what they believed in.

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