Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

Sampson Gannett reminded her female listeners of the interdependence of family members and of the woman's role within the family: "How important then is it, that these blossoms bring forth such fruit, as will best secure your own delights and felicity, and those of him, whose every enjoyment, and even his very existence, is so peculiarly interwoven with your own!"


CONCLUSION

Deborah Sampson Gannett contributed to the history of women: as 7"a first woman" to fight in the army; as one whose work adds to the diversity of female voices of the Revolutionary era; and as "a first woman" to speak in public to articulate an alternative point of view about women and war.

Sampson Gannett was not a fighter for expanded civil and property rights. She was a poor woman, an indentured servant, for whom improved property and inheritance laws and the vote offered little. As an individual, she did not plead for, but enacted, emancipation for early nineteenth-century women.

In an age in which women did not speak in public, her lecture attracted large audiences of men and women, successfully generated money she needed to support her family, and probably played a role in the congressional approval of her pension. Her soldiering experience challenged the assumption that women could not fight in combat, but she did not refute the argument that women should not fight in combat. Her soldiering experience implied that both men and women can be part of an armed civil militia, but it did not result in reform efforts to extend citizenship to women. That same experience showed that a woman could function on equal terms with men when gender biases were removed (or temporarily "equalized" by means of a disguise or personage), but it did not diminish the double standard used to judge the worth of women's experiences.

As a pioneer, the impact of her experiences in 1802 was limited because there was no organized effort to advance arguments provoked by her example. However, as recently as July 1991, when the U.S. Senate debated the role of women in combat, her performance figured in the argument. "Whether women can go into combat with the armies of the United States has, in a sense, already been answered . . . Deborah Sampson . . . served . . . in the waning days of the Revolution" ( MacNeil, 1991:E3). And, it should be added, she explained and justified what she had done in public lectures.


SOURCES

The Deborah Sampson Gannett Collection, Public Library, Sharon, Massachusetts, holds original texts, second-generation hand copies, photocopies of her "Address" and "Diary, 1802," files of unbound, uncatalogued correspondence about her, various secondary publications, and letters written by her descendants. Some official documents in the collection are dated inaccurately. For example, her original discharge and enlistment papers were destroyed; the copies made when she was applying for pensions give 1782

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