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National Womens History Project

Charity and “good works” have been part of American identity since before our country’s founding. To commemorate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day on March 9, we take a look at some women whose charity enabled them to contribute to—and work for—causes they strongly believed in.

Esther De Berdt Reed

Esther Reed, painting by Charles Wilson Peale

In 1780, Esther Reed, the wife of the newly appointed President (Governor) of Pennsylvania, learned about the sagging spirits of George Washington’s soldiers. She organized the Ladies Association of Philadelphia, recruiting women to go door-to-door in pairs to collect from every woman in town. The money was used to purchase fabric for soldiers’ shirts, each of which included the embroidered name of the woman who had sewn it.

Following Reed’s premature death, Benjamin Franklin’s daughter Sarah Bache was influenced by Reed’s work to carry on the women’s support for the soldiers. In Daughters of the Declaration, authors Claire Gaudiani and David Graham Burnett wrote that an estimated $300,000 was raised nationally by their campaign, “equal to tens of millions of dollars today.” Jump for more!

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