Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

CW Foundation navigation

Looking to Buy Tickets & Gifts or Book a Vacation? Click Here

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

Women on the Home Front Handkerchief


The impact of the Revolutionary War was not only felt by soldiers on the battlefield. It affected the lives of all people living in America. Women's lives were dramatically altered by the war, whether they participated in the activities of the Continental and British armies or labored to keep up their families' farms and businesses. Women took on tasks they hadn't had full responsibility over before, and at the same time cared for their families in the face of food shortages and the ever-looming threats of violence and looting.

In this lesson, students will examine a handkerchief printed with a poems and illustrations about life for women on the home front during the Revolution. Students will analyze the poem to discover the changing roles of women as they took on the responsibilities of their absent husbands and fathers who were fighting for American independence.


    Download Lesson Materials (PDF)

  • Primary Source of the Month, "Printed Handkerchief," red copper-plate printing on cotton, 26 in. square. England, 1784-1800. Concord Antiquarian Society Massachusetts. (for projection)
  • Abridged Handkerchief Transcription (one for each student)
  • Glossary (one for each student)
  • Women on the Home Front Chart (one for each student)
  • Women on the Home Front Activity Sheet (one for each student)
  • Women on the Home Front Answer Key
  • Large sheets of paper
  • Handkerchief Images (for lesson extension)


  1. Begin by reviewing traditional eighteenth-century female roles with the class (cleaning, laundry, cooking, spinning, sewing, mending, gardening, social engagements, raising children, etc.).
  2. Show the Primary Source of the Month to the class. Explain that each picture on the handkerchief has an accompanying poem, and that each picture and poem tells us about a different task undertaken by women on the home front during the Revolutionary War.
  3. Hand out the Abridged Handkerchief Transcription and Glossary to the class. Read the poem out loud to students, or choose students to read each stanza. Pause when needed to clarify difficult vocabulary.
  4. Distribute the Women on the Home Front Chart. Divide students into four groups. Assign each group to analyze four consecutive stanzas of the poem and complete the chart.
  5. Upon completion, have students share their answers with the other groups. Each student should fill in the chart with any new information.
  6. Redistribute students into six groups. Give each group a large sheet of paper.
  7. Have each group answer one question from the Women on the Home Front Activity Sheet. Ask them to brainstorm ideas and write them down on the large sheet of paper, coming up with as many as possible in the allotted time. Assist and guide each group as necessary as they work.
  8. Have the groups share their findings with the class. As each group presents, provide the class with clarification and explanation for each of the ideas, correcting any misconceptions and allowing students from other groups to add relevant thoughts. Students should write the answers learned from the other groups on their Activity Sheets.

Lesson Extensions

  1. Divide the class into groups. Hand each group an image from the handkerchief. Give students a few moments to identify the objects and activities in this scene. One by one, invite each group to recreate their image in a live tableau. Allow the other students to guess what is happening in each scene. (Note: the images can also be projected on a screen in the front of the room so that students can literally step into them).
  2. On the home front, women faced the challenge of dealing with shortages of everyday items. Substitutions for common materials were often ingenious improvisations, such as using thorns as pins, making tea out of local plants, and using walnut ash to preserve foods instead of salt. Have students come up with ways they could save money by substituting or reusing common products (for instance, washing and reusing plastic bottles, or using a reusable metal bottle instead).

This lesson was written by Marinanne Esposito, Key West, FL, and Kim O'Neil, Liverpoole, NY.