Let me start out this post by making something clear. What you are about to read is purely my opinion. One female follower of HM 17th Regt. of Foot. Not necessarily endorsed by the whole.
I proudly call myself a feminist. I was raised in a family of strong women and firmly believe there’s nothing any male member of the Regt. can do that I can’t (within reason). But, on the weekends, I lace myself into a corset, put on uncomfortable shoes and clothes, and portray a woman following the army. I submit to orders, dip candles, sew by hand, cry on cue, and get pretty desperate when I get caught looting. It’s “funcomfortable”. Why would I do this? Aren’t feminism and submission incompatible? Wouldn’t it be more fun and feminist to prove I can reenact a battle just as well as men?
First of all, let me just say that I understand the urge to “play with the boys” if you will. I have it too sometimes. Shooting a gun can be WAY more fun than, say, laundry. Plus, let’s face it. People buy tickets for battle reenactments. Women’s roles interpretation are generally a nice side benefit, unless it’s Princeton. So if you want to join the guys in your regt. in battle, that’s your choice.
So why don’t I? First of all, accuracy. As you can see throughout our website, accuracy and research are bedrocks for the 17th. Now, did some women dress like men and join the army? Yes. Deborah Sampson is proof of that. Did some women go to extraordinary lengths to help the army? Considering Mary Ludwig Hays and Margaret Corbin, each a candidate for inspiring “Molly Pitcher”, it’s clear some did. So a good Deborah Sampson or Mary Hays or Margaret Corbin impression can be just as accurate as mine. But remember. We only know of cases like these in the Continental army. So you can argue that while a well-researched Deborah Sampson impression works for the rebels, she may not be right for HM 17th Regt of Foot. Secondly, these cases are outliers. Did they exist? Yes. Could there be more? Sure. But they’re still very rare. Meanwhile, we can prove that hundreds of women followed both the British and American armies, serving in women’s roles. Check out our follower’s page for proof. These women did laundry. They nursed. They sold goods. They cooked (not for the men but for each other). They received rations. They raised kids and followed husbands, sons, and fathers. So a “camp follower” impression IS an equally accurate impression of an army on campaign.
The second reason is my personal soapbox. Think about something. When I mention “women during the Revolutionary War”, who do you think of? My bet is Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, maybe the Schuyler sisters thanks to Hamilton, or possibly Deborah Sampson or “Molly Pitcher”. Now don’t get me wrong. Every single one of these women are extraordinary, important, and deserve recognition for their contributions. But the majority of them are high-class ladies, unlikely to endure the hardships of a campaign. They might visit camp and stay there, but only when the army is in winter quarters. The ones who did follow the army, as said before, are outliers. Now, did you know about Baroness von Riedesel? She was the gentry wife of a Hessian general who followed him to America and kept a journal of her time with General Burgoyne’s army. That journal includes a detailed account of her experience at the Battle of Saratoga. She was also taken prisoner by the Continental army. How about Mrs. Reed of Trenton? She was the wife of a Continental officer who was forced to house Hessians in her home before the 1st Battle of Trenton. According to her daughter Martha, when a Hessian woman wanted her shoe buckle and Mrs. Reed hesitated, the Hessian took the shoes off Mrs. Reed’s feet and hit her in the face with the heel. In front of her kids! (Read William Dwyer’s “The Day is Ours” for more information). Check out our friend Kirsten’s research on Bridget Connor as well, who was drummed out of camp for stealing shirts. Then there’s the hundreds of nameless followers we know nothing about. These women’s stories are real, they’re important, and they deserve to be told. If we don’t tell them, who will?
They’re why I do this hobby. They’re why I choose to be “funcomfortable” as I do. To me, personally, I am being a feminist by telling these forgotten stories and portraying what the women actually did. I choose to honor these women by putting their stories out there when they’ve been ignored for centuries. Considering that neither army could function without its follower community, one could argue these women are just as important as the men they followed. Now how’s that for feminism?
God save the King!