Today, the Standing Liberty Gold Quarter Coin remembers the ladies of Philadelphia organizing on June 13, 1780 as a continuation of the Daughters of Liberty to produce shirts for the soldiers.
Though in poor health, one lady, Esther Reed, wrote a lengthy article published in a Philadelphia newspaper soliciting monetary assistance for the soldiers. [Excerpt from her missive below.]
She requested monetary assistance, however, General Washington suggested the most needed items were clothing, especially shirts.
The women of Philadelphia rallied with Mrs. Reed to use the money to purchase cloth, which they used to sew over 2200 shirts for the soldiers.
Benson John Lossing in his book The Pictorial Field-book of the Revolution, published in 1852, described the ladies’ efforts:
In the summer of 1780 the distress of the American army was very great, on account of the scarcity of clothing, and the inadequate means possessed by the commissary department to afford a supply.
The generous sympathies of the ladies of Philadelphia were aroused, and they formed an association for the purpose of affording relief to the poor soldiers.
Never was the energy of genuine sympathy more nobly exercised than by the patriotic women who joined hands in this holy endeavor.
Mrs. Esther Reed, the wife of General Joseph Reed, though feeble in health, and surrounded by family cares, entered with hearty zeal into the service, and was, by the united voice of her associates, placed at the head of the society.
Mrs. Sarah Bache, daughter of Dr. Franklin, was also a conspicuous actor in the formation of the association, and in carrying out its plans.
All classes became interested, and the result was glorious.
“All ranks of society seemed to have joined in the liberal effort, from Phillis, the colored woman, with her humble seven shillings and sixpence, to the Marchioness De La Fayette, who contributed one hundred guineas in specie, and the Countess De Luzerne, who gave six thousand dollars in Continental paper.
“Those who had no money to contribute gave the service of their hands in plying the needle, and in almost every house the good work went on.
“It was charity in its genuine form, and from its purest source — the voluntary outpourings from the heart.
“It was not stimulated by the excitements of our day — neither fancy fairs or bazaars; but the American women met, and, seeing the necessity that asked interposition, relieved it.
“They solicited money and other contributions directly and for a precise and avowed object. They labored with their needles, and sacrificed their trinkets and jewelry.”
The Marquis De Chastellux, who was in Philadelphia while these efforts were in progress, was delighted with the event.
In describing a visit to several of the American ladies, he says, “We began by Mrs. Bache. She merits all the anxiety we had to see her, for she is the daughter of Mr. Franklin. Simple in her manners, like her respectable father, she possesses his benevolence.
“She conducted us into a room filled with work, lately finished by the ladies of Philadelphia. This work consisted neither of embroidered tambour waistcoats, nor net-work edgings, nor of gold and silver brocade — it was a quantity of shirts for the soldiers of Pennsylvania.
“The ladies bought the linen from their own private purses, and took a pleasure in cutting them out and sewing them themselves. On each shirt was the name of the married or unmarried lady who made it, and they amounted to twenty-two hundred.”
The results of this effort were great and timely.
The aggregate amount of contributions in the city and county of Philadelphia was estimated at seven thousand five hundred dollars in specie value.
Added to this was a princely donation from Robert Morris of the contents of a ship fully laden with military stores and clothing, which had unexpectedly arrived.
During the cold winter that followed, hundreds of poor soldiers in Washington’s camp had occasion to bless the women of Philadelphia for their labor of love.
Excerpt from Esther Reed’s The Sentiments of an American Woman reprinted in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography of 1894:
The time is arrived to display the same sentiments which animated us at the beginning of the Revolution, when we renounced the use of teas, however agreeable to our taste, rather than receive them from our persecutors; when we made it appear to them that we placed former necessaries in the rank of superfluities, when our liberty was interested; when our republican and laborious hands spun the flax, prepared the linen intended for the use of our soldiers; when exiles and fugitives we supported with courage all the evils which are the concomitants of war.
Let us not lose a moment; let us be engaged to offer the homage of our gratitude at the altar of military valor, and you, our brave deliverers, while mercenary slaves combat to cause you to share with them, the irons with which they are loaded, receive with a free hand our offering, the purest which can be presented to your virtue, by an American woman.
Ideas, relative to the manner of forwarding to the American Soldiers, the Presents of the American Women.
All plans are eligible, when doing good is the object; there is however one more preferable; and when the operation is extensive, we cannot give it too much uniformity. On the other side, the wants of our army do not permit the slowness of an ordinary path.
It is not in one month, nor in eight days, that we would relieve our soldiery. It is immediately; and our impatience does not permit us to proceed by the long circuity of collectors, receivers and treasurers.
As my idea with regard to this, have been approved by some Ladies of my friends, I will explain them here; every other person will not be less at liberty to prepare and to adopt a different plan.
1st. All Women and Girls will be received without exception, to present their patriotic offering; and, as it is absolutely voluntary, everyone will regulate it according to her ability, and her disposition. The shilling offered by the Widow or the young Girl, will be received as well as the most considerable sums presented by the Women who have the happiness to join to their patriotism, greater means to be useful.
2d. A Lady chosen by the others in each county, shall be Treasuress; and to render her task more simple, and more easy, she will not receive but determinate sums, in a round number, from twenty hard dollars to any greater sum. The exchange forty dollars in paper for one dollar in specie.
It is hoped that there will not be one woman who will not with pleasure charge herself with the embarrassment which will attend so honorable an operation.
3d. The Women who shall not be in a condition to send twenty dollars in specie, or above, will join in as great a number as will be necessary to make this or any greater sum, and one amongst them will carry it, or cause it to be sent to the Treasuress.
4th. The Treasuress of the county will receive the money, and will keep a register, writing the sums in her book, and causing it to be signed at the side of the whole by the person who has presented it.
5th. When several Women shall join together to make a total sum of twenty dollars or more, she amongst them who shall have the charge to carry it to the Treasuress, will make mention of all their names on the register, if her associates shall have so directed her; those whose choice it shall be, will have the liberty to remain unknown.
6th. As soon as the Treasuress of the county shall judge, that the sums which she shall have received, deserve to be sent to their destination, she will cause them to be presented with the lists, to the wife of the Governor or President of the State, who will be Treasuress-General of the State; and she will cause it to be set down in her register, and have it sent to Mistress Washington.
If the Governor or President are unmarried, all will address themselves to the wife of the Vice-President, if there is one, or of the Chief Justice, &c.
7th. Women settled in the distant parts of the country, and not choosing for any particular reason as for the sake of greater expedition, to remit their Capital to the Treasuress, may send it directly to the wife of the Governor, or President, &c, or to Mistress Washington, who, if she shall judge necessary, will in a short answer to the sender, acquaint her with the reception of it.
8th. As Mrs. Washington may be absent from the camp when the greater part of the banks shall be sent there, the American Women considering, that General Washington is the Father and Friend of the Soldiery; that he is himself, the first Soldier of the Republic, and that their offering will be received at its destination, as soon as it shall have come to his hands, they will pray him, to take the charge of receiving it, in the absence of Mrs. Washington.
9th. General Washington will dispose of this fund in the manner that he shall judge most advantageous to the Soldiery. The American Women desire only that it may not be considered as to be employed, to procure to the army, the objects of subsistence, arms or clothing, which are due to them by the Continent. It is an extraordinary bounty intended to render the condition of the Soldier more pleasant, and not to hold place of the things which they ought to receive from the Congress, or from the States.
10th. If the General judges necessary, he will publish at the end of a certain time, an amount of that which shall have been received from each particular State.
11th. The Women who shall send their offerings, will have in their choice to conceal or to give their names; and if it shall be thought proper, on a fit occasion, to publish one day the lists, they only, who shall consent, shall be named; when with regard to the sums sent, there will be no mention made, if they so desire it.
The Standing Liberty Gold Quarter Coin shows with an image of the fourth page of a circular letter sent from George Washington to the heads of the states requesting “shirts, shoes and hats (most especially the first two)” in 1779.