• John Blundell, Ladies for Liberty: Women Who Made a Difference in American History, New York: Algora Publishing, 2011, 230 pages, $32.95.
In contemporary American politics, women generally are assumed to be more inclined toward socialistic ideas than men are. Women are more likely to favor candidates and policies that are supposed to help people, to provide a “safety net” against misfortune, and to promote “social justice.” (Of course, many men hold those views as well.)
John Blundell’s book Ladies for Liberty is a strong antidote to the notion that women are prone to mushy, collectivistic thinking and are hostile to individualism. He has written 20 short biographical sketches of American women who fought — sometimes at great risk to themselves — for freedom.
Blundell, who served as director general of the Institute of Economic Affairs in London until 2009, explains that the book grew out of his 2008 book on Margaret Thatcher. He did many speaking engagements in the U.S. about that book and he was asked often which American women he would compare Lady Thatcher to. In answering such questions, Blundell found out that few of his listeners knew anything about American women who had advanced the cause of freedom, other than some well-known names. That is why he decided to write the book.
It reads very rapidly, each chapter only 10 pages or fewer, getting right into the work each individual did on behalf of freedom. Blundell’s profiles are arranged chronologically: Mercy Otis Warren; Martha Washington; Abigail Adams; the Grimke Sisters (Sarah and Angelina); Sojourner Truth; Elizabeth Cady Stanton; Harriet Tubman; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Bina West Miller; Madam C.J. Walker; Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane; Isabel Paterson; Lila Acheson Wallace; Vivien Kellems; Taylor Caldwell; Clare Boothe Luce; Ayn Rand; Rose Director Friedman; Jane Jacobs; and Dorian Fisher.
Confronting authoritarians and oppressors usually requires not just conviction, but courage, risking bodily harm or severe financial loss. That was the case with several of Blundell’s ladies for liberty, starting with the first in the book, Mercy Otis Warren. She was the sister of the outspoken patriot James Otis, who was attacked and beaten savagely for expressing his opposition to British rule. Mercy was every bit as much an opponent of British tyranny as her brother, and engaged in a variety of treasonous activities along with famous male patriots. She was instrumental in establishing the Committees of Correspondence that knit together opposition to British rule throughout the colonies.
Abigail Adams could have been hanged for spying had the British authorities intercepted some of her letters to her husband that informed him of redcoat troop movements in and around Boston. Abigail also argued strongly (again through her letters) that the Declaration of Independence should denounce slavery and she was disappointed when the document contained no such language. Finally, she attacked the many laws, both before and after the Revolution, treating women as lesser citizens.
Perhaps the bravest of all was Harriet Tubman. She was born a slave in Maryland and endured whippings in her youth — common punishment for any slave who got the least bit out of line. In 1849, she ran away, avoiding the patrols of slave catchers paid by the state and reaching safety in Pennsylvania. She found work as a maid but saved most of her earnings for a planned return to Maryland to bring her family out of slavery. Harriet succeeded in getting her own family to freedom. And then she became “the conductor on the Underground Railroad” and helped many other slaves escape from bondage. Following the Civil War, she took up the cause of women’s suffrage and also raised the funds for a home for aged and infirm black people — private charity long before government got into the welfare business.
To those “profiles in courage” Blundell adds other fascinating sketches of women who spoke, wrote, and acted to advance liberty. I heartily recommend that you get a copy of this book and read it cover to cover.