The Often-Forgotten Daughters of The Revolution

Having just spent the Fourth of July celebrating the Founding Fathers and their greatest achievement, it comes as no surprise that important figures of American history are on everyone’s minds. While most people know the stories of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, the women of the American Revolution are often forgotten. Though the fireworks may be over and the BBQ grills put away, let us remember a few of the  important American Revolution-era women who helped mold the best parts of our country, from sea to shining sea.

1. Sybil Ludington

In April of 1776, two individuals were sent out on a midnight ride to warn their communities that the British were invading American soil. One of these messengers was Paul Revere, a famous figure in American history. The other messenger was not, however, a Founding Father or a military hero. She was a sixteen year-old girl named Sybil Ludington. Though Sybil rarely gets the credit she deserves as a hero of American history, her ride on horseback was actually twice as long as Revere’s, and her efforts allowed the local military regiment to assemble and march against the British.

2. Phyllis Wheatley

Though she had been kidnapped from her native Gambia and forced into slavery upon reaching the United States, Phyllis Wheatley overcame many obstacles in order to become the nation’s first published African American poet. The publishers of her book were concerned that no one would believe that a female slave had written such beautiful poetry so they asked nearly twenty distinguished men in Boston to authenticate that she had. Wheatley’s work was so well-regarded that she was invited to meet George Washington after sending him a letter and poem of support. Soon after that she became recognized far and wide for her talented artistry and for her support of the Revolution.

3. Polly Cooper

Long before the French joined the American Revolution as allies to the colonists, American revolutionaries received support from the Oneida Nation, a Native American tribe that played an important role in providing aid to the colonists. One Oneida woman in particular was integral to the survival of the Revolution during the winter of 1777. Her name was Polly Cooper and she has been described as “an example of the courage, generosity and indomitable spirit of the Oneida people”. As one of forty members sent to Valley Forge in order to deliver food and medical aid, Cooper remained with the Revolutionary Army throughout the winter in order to insure the survival of as many soldiers as possible.

4. Abigail Adams

Easily one of the most famous women on this list, Abigail Adams was the wife and private advisor of eventual President John Adams. While she is most famous for urging her husband to “remember the ladies” when making new laws for the young nation, she also acted as a military organizer and “an adamant advocate of equal public education for women and emancipation of African-American slaves”. She was friends with a number of early American feminists, including Mercy Otis Warren, a political writer and satirist.

These women are just a few of the many ladies of liberty that history too often forgets. As you enjoy the last few fireworks and frankfurters from the holiday, remember to celebrate America’s earliest feminists as well!

Advertisements

Women’s History Month, Minnesota Edition: Coya Knutson

In honor of Women’s History Month we’re writing a series of blog posts about famous (and not so famous) women from Minnesota history. Our first post is about political pioneer Coya Knutson.

coya_knutson

Coya Knutson, born Cornelia Gjesdahl in 1912 on a farm in Edmore, ND, was the first woman elected to represent the State of Minnesota in the United States House of Representatives.

Knutson graduated with a degree in education from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN in 1934 and left for New York to pursue an education in opera at The Julliard School. She returned to the Midwest when her music career didn’t pan out, teaching high school classes in North Dakota and Minnesota. She married Andy Knutson in 1940 and re-located to Oklee, Minnesota, where she worked as a school teacher and helped her husband run a small hotel.

Knutson, like many other women who have run for elected office, got involved in politics through community activism. According to her House of Representatives biography, she “served as a field agent for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, investigating issues of price support. She helped establish the Oklee Medical Clinic, a local Red Cross branch, and the Community Chest Fund.”

She joined the newly formed Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) party in the 1940’s and was appointed chair of the DFL’s Red Lake County organization in 1948. The DFL encouraged her to run for the state legislature; she did so and was elected to serve in the Minnesota House in 1950. After serving two terms she decided that she wanted to run for Congress, despite opposition from DFL party leaders. She self-financed her campaign and traveled the state to talk to voters. She beat the DFL-endorsed candidate in the primary election and then went on to defeat six-term Republican incumbent Harold Hagen in the general election.

Once in Congress, she served on the Agriculture Committee and advocated for policies that helped farmers. She also advocated for funding for cystic fibrosis research and a federal student financial aid program. A bill that she wrote, which helped establish the first federal student loan program, was included in the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) that was passed in 1958.

Days after the district convention in 1958, Knutson’s husband released a letter (believed to have been written by DFLers who held a grudge against Knutson) that called on Knutson to give up her bid for re-election and return home to care for her family. The letter received considerable media attention and it, along with rumors that she was having an affair with an aide, likely helped lead to her defeat in the 1958 election.

In 1961 Knutson was appointed as the liaison officer for the Department of Defense in the Office of Civil Defense, where she served from 1961 to 1970. She divorced her alcoholic, abusive husband in 1962. She attempted to become involved in electoral politics again in 1977 but was unsuccessful.

Knutson died on October 10, 1996 at the age of 82.


Sources: Minnesota Historical Society LibGuide: “Coya Knutson: Groundbreaking Conrgresswoman.” Web address: http://libguides.mnhs.org/knutson

United States House of Representatives History, Art, and Archives. Web address: http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/16457

Halloran, Liz. “The Congresswoman Whose Husband Called Her Home.” May 10, 2014. Web address: http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2014/05/10/310996960/the-congresswoman-whose-husband-called-her-home