Thursday, March 29, 2012

Book Review: "In the Words of Women"

Co-edited by Louise V. North, Janet M. Wedge, and Landa M. Freeman, In the Words of Women: The Revolutionary War and the Birth of the Nation, 1765-1799 (Lexington Books, 2011) is a useful compendium of extracts from the diaries, letters, poetry, and other sources (published and unpublished) of women from the Revolutionary period. The editors have dug deeply, so an impressive number of women are represented: those few that immediately come to mind are here, of course (Abigail Smith Adams and her sisters, Baroness von Riedesel, Lucy Flucker Knox, Mercy Otis Warren, Elizabeth Drinker, &c.) but we also meet Grace Growden Galloway, Sarah Kast McGinn, Mary Cary Ambler, Janet Schaw and a whole host of others (for a total of 124 different women).

The volume is separated into three sections: in the first, we're taken from the mid-1760s through the end of the Revolutionary War, roughly chronologically but from a variety of perspectives; the second takes a thematic approach, examining aspects of women's daily lives during the period (health, marriage, other domestic affairs, travel); finally, in the third section the chronological overview returns for period covering the end of the Revolution through the end of the century (though it's notable that the debate over the Constitution is barely mentioned at all).

Within each chapter, short excerpts from the individual women are separated by editorial remarks setting the scene or introducing the writer. These provide useful context, and are quite good, although a few unfortunate typographical errors have crept in. The editors have laid out fairly transparently the editorial conventions they've followed, both in a general note and in specific instances within the text; while by necessity the writings are often heavily excerpted, at least the editors have provided good source notes so that interested readers can locate the original source. The footnotes are extensive and the bibliography is well worth a perusal as well.

This volume, which adds a number of important voices to our understanding of the Revolutionary period, should find a wide audience. While anyone might quibble with specific editorial decisions, the project is an admirable one, and the editors have carried it off very well indeed.