Rebecca Dickinson: Independence for a New England Woman

Marla Miller, Author
Marla Miller. Westview, $20 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-8133-4765-3
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Working at the intersection of the history of the American Revolution and women’s history, Miller, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, adds to the Lives of American Women series (edited by Carol Berkin) this effective biography of Massachusetts seamstress and “ordinary woman” Rebecca Dickinson. Born in the farming village of Hatfield in 1738, Dickinson received a basic education and at the age of 12 took an apprenticeship with a gownmaker—work that would provide her with decades of economic independence. As an adult working woman, Dickinson couldn’t and didn’t ignore the growing rift between the colonies and England. During the 1760s, patriots launched boycotts on British-made cloth, and as a seamstress she understood the impact they would have on her livelihood. Miller (Betsy Ross and the Making of America) makes good use of the documents Dickinson left behind, portraying her as an intelligent woman who knew what was at stake in the Revolution, who was drawn in to the cause, and who remained thoroughly independent till the end: unable to find a man who suited her and unwilling to lower her standards, Dickinson lived her life as a bachelorette. She was a realist, not a romantic, and knew her choice meant that others would always consider her odd. Luckily, the lives of odd folks make for interesting stories. (Aug.)
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