Praised by her mentor John Adams, Mercy Otis Warren was America's first woman playwright and female historian of the American Revolution. In this unprecedented biography, Nancy Rubin Stuart reveals how Warren's provocative writing made her an exception among the largely voiceless women of the eighteenth century.
There has been some what of a revival in American historical television dramas over the past few years, and I’d be lying if I said I liked them as much as the British historical dramas- based solely on the integrity of the history being presented to the public via the preferred medium of flat screens. Cable shows like TURN: Washington’s Spies, Sons of Liberty, and (the less recent) HBO series on John Adams are all wildly entertaining. I admit to watching these shows and cringing every time I witness an inaccuracy or fabricated event but still completely enjoying them. Like the majority of history, these American Revolutionary stories are told from the narratives of men. I’m ready for a Revolutionary T.V. drama told from and based on the perspective of a woman. I think Mercy Otis Warren’s story would be the perfect place to start.
“Silence is the only medium of safety for those who have an opinion of their own that does not exactly square with the enthusiasms of the time”, Mercy Otis Warren confided to her son some fifteen plus years after the revolution had ended and her once dear friend John Adams had ascended to the presidency. Ironically, Mercy had been anything but silent during the years that spanned the American Revolution. But that was a different time for Mercy. A time when patriotic fervor was at its height and popular thought and values aligned with Mercy’s own.
As the wife of the patriotic James Warren and the sister of the zealous James “the patriot” Otis (whom she endearingly referred to as Jemmy) Mercy was in a prime position to witness the personal and rhetorical events that contributed to the coming of the revolution. As an educated women- thanks to the chance at an education because an older brother refused to take his own education seriously- Mercy had acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to further develop her innate ability to wield a pen with wit and intuitive verve.
In Nancy Rubin Stuart’s depiction of Mrs.Warren’s life and patriotic achievements a unique point-of-view sheds an intimate light on the thoughts and actions of some of the Revolution’s most memorable figures. From Stuart’s book the reader is presented with a worm’s-eye-view of the history of The American Revolution.
Mercy Otis Warren was truly a Revolutionary figure in her own right and helped set the stage for women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to pen their own political commentary and openly critique the patriarchal system that Stanton would go on to challenge in Seneca Falls almost a century later.
I loved seeing the American Revolution unfold through Mercy’s eyes but wish the book would have divulged more information on Mercy alone. I am definitely inspired to go and read any other book I can find on Mercy Otis Warren after reading this book and am grateful to the author for introducing me to Mercy’s story.
In short, Mercy Otis Warren was a bad ass. Mercy stands out as a rebel among rebels. In the 18th century it was not culturally or socially acceptable for women to occupy their minds with thoughts outside of the domestic sphere but Mercy was situated in a hot-bed of revolutionary action at her home in Plymouth, Massachusetts and could not help but put her education and sharp wit to use by her pen.
Those who admire Abigail Adams will feel just as strongly for Mercy Otis Warren after reading The Muse of the Revolution.
If you find yourself interested in the huge role that women played throughout America’s revolutionary period, check out Carol Berkin’s concise and entertaining Revolutionary Mothers.
And Just for FUN:
Here’s a cute little ode to/bio of Mercy Otis Warren:
And for those of you who are looking for SERIOUS FUN and were inspired by my review, here’s a lecture video featuring professional historians/authors on Mercy Otis Warren, including the author of the book I reviewed:
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