To Be Useful to the World

Women in Revolutionary America, 1740-1790

Revised Edition

By Joan R. Gundersen

344 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5697-0
    Published: August 2006
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7715-9
    Published: December 2006

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Offering an interpretation of the Revolutionary period that places women at the center, Joan R. Gundersen provides a synthesis of the scholarship on women's experiences during the era as well as a nuanced understanding that moves beyond a view of the war as either a "golden age" or a disaster for women. Gundersen argues that women's lives varied greatly depending on race and class, but all women had to work within shifting parameters that enabled opportunities for some while constraining opportunities for others.

Three generations of women in three households personalize these changes: Elizabeth Dutoy Porter, member of the small-planter class whose Virginia household included an African American enslaved woman named Peg; Deborah Franklin, common-law wife of the prosperous revolutionary, Benjamin; and Margaret Brant, matriarch of a prominent Mohawk family who sided with the British during the war. This edition incorporates substantial revisions in the text and the notes to take into account the scholarship that has appeared since the book's original publication in 1996.

About the Author

Joan R. Gundersen is research scholar in women's studies at the University of Pittsburgh and professor emeritus of history at California State University, San Marcos. She is author or coauthor of four other books, including The Anglican Ministry in Virginia, 1723-1776: A Study of a Social Class.
For more information about Joan R. Gundersen, visit the Author Page.


"Here is living testimony to the significance of the recovery of women in our published history. . . . [Gunderson] covers immense ground that brings to life a historic scene we hardly realized previous narratives had treated in such a lopsided manner."--Anglican and Episcopal History

"To Be Useful to the World is a synthesis of the very highest quality. Gundersen provides an immensely rich and wide-ranging discussion of the plethora of forces that shaped the lives and experiences of women of different ethnicities, social ranks, and religious preferences during the era of the American Revolution. Moreover, she does so in a most engaging and entertaining fashion. Her examples are always well chosen, the reader is not overwhelmed by unnecessary detail, and the text is always lively."--Betty Wood, University of Cambridge

"To Be Useful to the World clearly shows the complexity of women's experience in revolutionary America, thus providing an excellent introduction for graduate students and scholars outside the field."--The Journal of American History

"While the author offers her own interpretation of the process and significance of shifting gendered roles and norms, she carefully weaves her insight into a work that is primarily a presentation--even a celebration--of the growing, colorful, and complex fabric that is the historiography of women in early America."--William and Mary Quarterly