Written by Lizzie Lohrer
Everybody knows what Rosa Parks did for the Civil Rights movement, and most everyone has at least heard of Eleanor Roosevelt. Sometimes though, we get so caught up in remembering the great things these women did – and they were great – that we forget that the largest influencers often lived in the shadows.
The American Revolution is a time not exempt from this. We hear about Paul Revere, Benedict Arnold, and George Washington, but hear less and less about the women who helped along the war effort.
In 1778, Benjamin Tallmadge, a friend of George Washington’s, gathered together a spy group of sorts called the Culper Spy Ring. While the group was almost entirely comprised of men, one female spy, referred to simply as Agent 355, played large roles in some of the groups major discoveries such rooting out Benedict Arnold as a British spy and arresting Major John Andre, who was Arnold’s contact in the British army. Later on, 355 was arrested by the British and held on the HMS Jersey. On board, conditions were so extremely terrible that most only survived a few months. It was there that Agent 355 is thought to have died. To this day, we still do not know her identity.
On April 26, 1777, Dutchess County, New York received word that the British army was approaching. Around nine that night, sixteen-year-old Sybil Ludington set off to warn the militias. By morning, she had gathered 400 men and ridden 40 miles. They were able to beat the British back, and while they were too late to completely stop the attack, they severely minimized the damage. She later was thanked for her efforts by George Washington himself. While we usually remember Paul Revere as the one who warned of the oncoming British attack – we’ve probably all heard the phrase “one if by land, and two if by sea” at some point – Ludington is often forgotten, even though she covered twice as much distance.
Of course, these are only two of the many examples of how we’ve forgotten influential women throughout the years. So what should we do? We shouldn’t stop celebrating men’s achievements – all that they did still matters. However, we can still remind ourselves of some of the forgotten women who affected history. Also, part of the reason these women are forgotten is because their achievements were brushed aside. Society had the mindset that women couldn’t do anything important, so less of what they did was recognized, and even less was written down. While we can’t change that now, we can strive to make sure we recognize women’s achievements now, whether that’s in sports, politics, science, the arts, or any other field. Conditions for women have vastly improved since the 1700s and 1800s, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t more we can do to balance the scales so that all minorities, not just women, are given recognition, praise, and thanks where it is due.