Esther Reed and the Ladies Association
It’s difficult to say just how Esther Reed caught my attention.
After diving in pretty deep on the death of Nicholas Eveleigh and the controversy of filling his vacant position as Comptroller of the Treasury Department (look for that article soon), I needed to back off and find something a bit more straight forward to write about.
I chose the woman who did more to effect the Continental Army than any other female.
Editors Note: This article original mistakenly said that Joseph Reed signed the Declaration of Independence. This has been corrected. Thanks to Roy Clevenger for pointing out the error.
Sympathy For The Americans
Esther de Berdt saw the effects of Parliaments unfair tax policies from the other side of the pond.
Her father, Dennis de Berdt, was one of the London merchants whose business was affected by colonial boycotts in response to the Stamp Act. Dennis became active among the tradesmen of Great Britain who campaigned (successfully) for the elimination of this law.
Esther, who worked as his secretary, was further interested as she had fallen in love with a young man by the name of Joseph Reed.
Joseph Reed was in London receiving an education in law. He returned to North America after the Stamp Act was put in place to set his families affairs in order.
Throughout this time, the correspondence of Esther and Joseph often turned to politics. Joseph returned to Europe and the two were quickly married.
Esther’s father died soon afterward and the two decided to relocate to Pennsylvania (with her mother tagging along).
On the Run
When the American Revolution broke out, Joseph was convince by George Washington to join the war.
Esther was left to care for her young family alone. She took her mother and four children and evacuated Philadelphia as the British approached. Over the next few years she was forced to relocate her family on several occasions to escape the Redcoats.
When the Continental Army finally regained control of New Jersey and Philadelphia, Esther returned home and became First Lady of Pennsylvania when Joseph (who signed the Articles of Confederation) was elected President of the State.
The Sentiments of an American Woman
Esther believe that of all the things a woman could match a man in, the most important was patriotism.
In 1780 she published an article titled The Sentiments of an American Woman. This essay outlined her idea that women should contribute to the Revolution by donating (and soliciting donations of) money.
The idea spread and women from several States began to follower her lead.
The women soon organized into the Ladies Association of Philadelphia. Her precedent was again emulated when Ladies Associations began popping up all over the nation.
Esther Reed, as the Governor’s wife, received the title of Treasuress-General (each State’s First Lady was given this office) and was responsible for collecting money and forwarding it to Mistress Washington.
As the originator of the idea, Esther was held responsible to for communicating with the Washingtons. As Martha was unavailable at the time, Esther had to write directly to the Commander-in-Chief.
George shot down Esther’s first idea of giving hard currency to the soldiers, as he thought they would just blow it on strong drink. He convinced her that the most important thing the money could be spent on was clothing for the soldiers.
Unfortunately, this is where Esther’s story ends rather abruptly.
She caught dysentery and passed away at just 34 years old.
Esther’s cause was far from complete, however, as Sarah Franklin Bache (Ben Franklin’s daughter) was chosen to take her place as Treasuress-General. Bache took the substantial money raised and fulfilled Washington’s desire for cloths...with a twist.
To honor Esther’s wish that the men received something special from the women and had each lady who stitched the 2,200 shirts put their name on the collar so the men would remember who they were fighting for, and who to thank.
Read about some other Founding Mothers here:
The main source for this story was ‘Founding Mothers’ by Cokie Roberts.
‘Founding Mothers’ is my favorite book on the women who built America. It covers a shocking amount of ladies and somehow fills the pages with facts while keeping the stories smooth and interesting.
If you’d like a copy you can pick one up through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).