The fourth of July is a time for barbeques, picnics, family reunions, fireworks and of course remembering our Founding Fathers. But how can we celebrate this most American holiday without recognizing the women of the Revolutionary War? These are the women who raised children, ran family businesses and sometimes even joined their husbands on the battlefield. This Independence Day let’s take a moment to celebrate some of our favorite “Founding Mothers.”
Betsy Ross, the legend of the first American flag
Born on January 1, 1752 in Philadelphia, Elizabeth (Betsy) Griscom was a fourth-generation American living in the Quaker tradition. Raised in a family of carpenters and craftsmen, Betsy learned needlework at school and at home. At 21-years-old she married John Ross, an Anglican, leading to her expulsion from the Quaker community. Less than two years later, the young couple opened an upholstery business, which eventually started making flags in Pennsylvania.
After the war started, access to fabrics became difficult and their business faced great challenges. In January of 1776, an explosion killed John Ross. Through these challenges, Betsy managed to keep the business afloat and according to the family’s recollection, in the spring of 1776 she had a fateful visit by George Washington. The young woman impressed Washington with her skills – she cut a 5-pointed star with just one clip of the scissors – and legend has it, that’s how she received the honor of making the first American flag.
Betsy eventually married twice again bearing seven children, five of which survived beyond infancy. Her story may have changed through the years, but Betsy Ross was a mother, a businesswoman, the foundation of her household, and in our books – the first “Founding Mother.”
Kitty Greene, The Cotton Gin
Catherine (“Kitty”) Littlefield Greene married General Nathanael Greene when she was 19, about a year before the Revolutionary War. Over the course of the war they had five children, which Catherine raised without her husband, who was often away fighting on the battlefield. After the war ended, Kitty’s hopes for a normal family life were shattered. Gen. Greene had personally paid for warm clothes for his soldiers accumulating huge debts in the process.
To shore up his debt, Gen. Green sold off his properties and moved his family to a plantation that was given to him as a gratitude for his service during the war. Kitty quickly realized that her husband was exhausted by the war and drained by worries about his family, so she made it her goal to turn the plantation into a success. In 1786 Gen. Greene died unexpectedly and left Kitty a single mother, raising a family under a cloud of financial burdens.
But Kitty’s courage and determination never left her. With the help of a new manager, she revived the plantation and within two years it was thriving. Even more, Kitty noticed the potential of a young inventor she met, Eli Whitney and convinced him to pursue his inventions at her plantation. Soon after, he invented the cotton gin, but many believe it was Kitty who came up with the main invention, which is crucial in separating the seeds from cotton.
It’s hard to imagine what life was like for these enterprising women, and how strong they must have been to perservere despite such enormous challenges. This Independence Day, we thank the Founding Mothers and of course the Founding Fathers for all they have done for our country.