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Meet 10 Founding Mothers: Women Who Shaped Our Nation

You know the Founding Fathers. They're on our currency, their faces etched onto mountains, and legacies documented and taught in textbooks – with good reason. But what about the women who shaped our nation? Their names are less familiar and their stories are less shared, but these inspiring women in history played a vital role in shaping our country into what it is today. For that reason, we are taking this Independence Day as an opportunity to share the stories and legacies of the Founding Mothers of America. Some of the most influential women in history, these women changed the world as we once knew it.

You may notice the women in this roundup aren't a particularly diverse group. Most of the women named here came from immense privilege and were lent far more opportunities to play such a significant role in the forming of our nation. To give some historical context, Native women were largely in support of the British (in hopes of protecting their communities and tribal lands as they faced mounting pressure from US settlers) and slavery afforded very little freedoms to African Americans at this time. So while the contributions from these "Founding Mothers" were no doubt vital, it's important to remember that they were the only beginning of a long journey full of diverse stories and Trailblazers who shaped the country we know today!

Abigail Adams

1744 – 1818

Abigail Adams

First Lady to the second US president John Adams, Abigail Adams' legacy includes a call to "remember the ladies." In a letter written to her husband on the cusp of US Independence, she advocated for more rights for women who at the time were mostly governed by their husbands. She believed women should have more say in the decisions of their household rather than simply serving as caretakers. Adams wasn't just a wife, but a confidant and an advisor to her husband, and a fierce supporter of equal education and women's property rights.

Deborah Sampson

1760 – 1827

Deborah Sampson

Deborah Sampson is known as a hero of the American Revolution in which she disguised herself as a man named Robert Shurtliff in order to serve with the Patriot forces. She went on to become the only woman to receive a military pension for her services in the Revolutionary army, and the first woman to go on a national lecture tour of the United States. It took much longer for women to be legally allowed to join the army, but Deborah no doubt set that course in motion in 1781.

Dolley Madison

1768 – 1849

Dolley Madison

Though not the first of her position, Dolley Todd Madison helped define the role of the First Lady as we know it today. The wife of the fourth US president James Madison, Dolley set the precedent for her successors through her social prowess and generous hospitality. Dolley hosted many social functions, and often invited members of both political parties, which was not common at the time. She was the only First Lady given an honorary seat on the floor of Congress, and is believed to have played a significant role in her husband's popularity as president.

Esther de Berdt Reed

1746 – 1780

 

Esther de Berdt Reed

Esther de Berdt Reed was a civic leader for soldiers' relief. She formed the Ladies Association of Philadelphia in 1780 to provide aid for the Continental Army, and invited the wives of influential men to participate and be a part of the Revolution. Together they led local relief efforts and raised funds for George Washington's troops and inspired women all over to get involved.

Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton

1757 – 1854

Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton

The wife of American founding father and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, Elizabeth (or Eliza) Hamilton is remembered for carrying on her husband's legacy after his death by founding the Orphan Asylum Society, New York City's very first orphanage, as well as The Hamilton Free School which provided free education to low income children. These institutions served as an homage to her late husband who grew up as an orphan himself and could not have afforded an education without the help of others.

Martha Washington

1731 – 1802

Martha Washington

Martha Washington served as the nation's first First Lady and set the bar high for those to come. As the wife of then Commander-in-Chief George Washington, Martha spent nearly half of the Revolutionary War by his side. Martha acted as a sounding board and confidant to her husband, serving as his secretary and representative, and is remembered for boosting the morale of the entire camp.

Mary Katherine Goddard

1738 – 1816

Mary Katherine Goddard

Mary Katherine Goddard was an American publisher and postmaster and played a pivotal role in our US History. She was the second printer to print the Declaration of Independence Declaration of Independence, but the first to do so while including the names of the signatories as we know it today. You'll even find her name on the Declaration as well, as she voluntarily labeled the document "Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by MARY KATHERINE GODDARD."

Mercy Otis Warren

1728 – 1814

Mercy Otis Warren

Mercy Otis Warren was a poet, playwright and historian during the American Revolution. Her poems and plays criticized and urged her fellow colonists (particularly women) to resist royal authority in Massachusetts. She is viewed as an esteemed historian of the American Revolution, and was one of the first women to publish a nonfiction book, of which President Thomas Jefferson ordered advance copies for every member of his cabinet!

Phillis Wheatley

1753 – 1784

Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley is the first African-American (the third colonial American woman to become a published poet. Enslaved in Boston by the Wheatley family in the 1770s, Phillis learned to read and write, and was encouraged to pursue her poetry when they discovered her talent. Phillis went on to publish her book, "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" in 1773, and was emancipated shortly after. Her work was praised by George Washington, Thomas Paine, and others. Philis proves that just because something hasn't been done before, doesn't mean you cannot be the first!

Penelope Barker

1728 – 1796

Penelope Barker

Penelope Baker is known for organizing the first female-led political demonstration in the US when she rallied a group of women to sign a resolution boycotting British tea which had been monopolizing in the colonies due to unfair taxes and policies. Known as the Edenton Tea Party, the act was mocked by the London press who depicted the protestors as immoral, bad mothers, and elicited criticism from men who thought that the women should stick to their assigned gender roles. But as they say, "Well-behaved women rarely make history."

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2 comments

  • Thank you for these bios. I teach 4th grade girls. I also teach this time in history. I did know about almost all of these women but will be sure to incorporate these short bios with my info for the girls.

    Peggy Grady on July 14th, 2021
  • Thank you for these bios. I teach 4th grade girls. I also teach this time in history. I did know about almost all of these women but will be sure to incorporate these short bios with my info for the girls.

    Peggy Grady on July 12th, 2021