Revolutionary Heroines: A Review of Susan Casey’s Women Heroes of the American Revolution: 20 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Defiance, and Rescue

Ashley Szanter

In Women Heroes of the American Revolution: 20 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Defiance, and Rescue, Susan Casey examines in meticulous detail the historic, though often overlooked, contributions of women to the American Revolution. Though aimed at young adult readers, this particular text uses language and story-telling rhetoric to impart lessons and tales of bravery to readers of all ages. Explained by Casey herself in the “Author’s Note,” “women didn’t have to rush to war. The war surrounded them, engulfed their lives” (viii). For any scholar or casual reader of women’s history, this text is a great compendium of stories that will give a glimpse into the contributions of women to the American Revolutionary cause. For that reason, this text fulfills its intended goal and provides readers with an entertaining, enlightening, and page turning look at some of the Revolution’s most interesting women patriots.

This text centers its stories on a few well-known as well as many lesser known female Revolutionaries. The book is separated in five parts: “Resisters, Supporters, and Rescuers;” “Spies;” “Saboteurs;” “Soldiers and Defenders of the Home Front;” and “Legendary Ladies.” Each of these five parts contain vignettes of different women and exactly how they contributed to the success of the Revolutionary War and the establishment of the United States of America. Casey devotes the first section of this text to women who aided the Revolution in non-combative ways. One example is Mary Katherine Goddard, publisher of Baltimore’s Maryland Journal. She not only published this broadside with her brother, but wrote, edited, and sold copies that informed locals about how they could help the war effort. Though not on the “front lines” of battle, her dedication to succeeding in a male-dominated profession and steadfastness to proclaiming her support of the war in print marks her as an important female figure in the Revolution. Casey’s biographical writing provides the appropriate details without seeming dry or uninteresting. Rather, she is able to draw the reader into this world and reveal the important role of women in war efforts, even in a time where women were not allowed to enlist in the military.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this entire text, the section on “Spies” proves to debunk the idea that women had a limited means of contributing to the Revolutionary War effort. Because women were often written off an unimportant, their presence amongst British soldiers went largely unnoticed. Such is the case for Lydia Darragh, a female spy for the American army in Philadelphia. According to Casey’s account, Darragh would go into town and overhear conversations about British troop plans to attack surrounding, patriot-held cities. With the help of her husband, they would send encrypted messages to American generals to tip them off to British army movements and plans. By doing so, her inconspicuous presence aided the American cause by keeping them one step ahead of the British. This story does an excellent job of recounting Darragh’s largely unknown contributions to the Revolution. The details, while meant to be informative and entertaining, weave together known facts about Darragh into an enjoyable story of subterfuge. Casey’s means of recounting this particular story reflect those strengths of hers seen throughout the text as a whole. An important element of this text is, at the end of each vignette, Casey includes a “Learn More” section that encourages readers to research individuals they may find profoundly interesting. These sections refer readers to articles, websites, and books that include more in-depth looks at these individuals and their contribution to American history.

It must be noted that this text does not really utilize any traditional theoretical approaches as its target audience is young adult readers. While this text may not function as a critical or analytical piece, the integrity of the book as a whole does not suffer. For the academic, avid, or casual reader, this book provides an interesting, and sometimes inspiring, look at the role of women since the beginning of the United States as an autonomous nation. Weaving together history, legend, and sometimes humor, Casey has compiled a fascinating, historical compilation of women meant to entertain and excite readers. For modern women and men alike, Casey’s use of pictures, primary source quotes, and sheer story-telling ability provides wonderful attention to these Revolutionary women. The text illuminates women’s role in the development of an American nation that traces back to the very beginning of American Revolutionary sentiment. For its achievements in these categories, Casey’s Women Heroes of the American Revolution: 20 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Defiance, and Rescue is a wonderful read for anyone looking to broaden their historical horizons and embark upon a road filled with intrigue, subterfuge, and creativity.

 

Casey, Susan. Women Heroes of the American Revolution: 20 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Defiance, and Rescue. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2015. Print.