Molly Stark

It’s been almost a year since I snapped this shot of the Molly Stark monument along Route 9 in Wilmington, Vermont, but Janice Brown‘s recent post on New Hampshire patriots got me thinking. Why is it that the maker of this monument chose to depict Molly with an infant in one arm and a long-arm in the other? Although Molly is rightfully hailed as being one of our Founding Mothers, she’s not remembered for firing a single shot or even lifting a musket (unless to hand it to her husband) during the Revolutionary War. Instead, Molly Stark is remembered for being the wife and mother that General John Stark–author of NH’s beloved “Live free or die” motto–left behind to tend house and children while he went off to fight the Red Coats.

Molly Stark

Although I respect any woman’s right to bear arms if she so chooses, the sight of Molly posed as Madonna with musket makes me wonder. Isn’t single-handedly managing a household with eleven children while your husband is away being a war hero enough to earn you a monument without someone feeling the need to slap a firearm in your hand? With eleven children to tend to, how would Molly have found a spare moment for musketry? As if tending her own household wasn’t enough, Molly Stark is known for nursing her husband’s troops during a smallpox epidemic, turning their already crowded house into a makeshift hospital for ailing soldiers. Wouldn’t a more accurate depiction of Molly’s status as a Revolutionary War heroine show her with an infant in one arm and a load of laundry in the other: Molly Stark, America’s first lady of first aid?

War memorial

New England towns have a fondness for soldier statues: right down the road from Molly Stark stands an armed, unnamed soldier erected “In Memory of Our Country’s Defenders.” Obviously we Americans wouldn’t have an Independence Day to celebrate if it weren’t for the patriots who literally took up arms in our nation’s defense…but aren’t there other ways to defend our country? In her post, Janice suggests our definition of “patriot” is too confined, for it should include anyone “who works toward the prosperity, order, justice, peace and liberty of their country, despite adverse conditions and danger to their personal safety.” According to this definition, Molly Stark didn’t have to shoulder a gun to become a patriot; instead, she served her country by shouldering the burden of tending the home fires during her husband’s absence and by risking her own and her family’s health by wiping the fevered brows of smallpox-infected soldiers. Are we as a country ready, though, to erect patriotic monuments to housewives, daycare workers, and health-care providers? Would a statue of Molly Stark wielding a bedpan look as impressively patriotic as Molly with her gun?

I wonder what Hannah Dustin with her axe and Molly Stark with her gun would say to one another if they met in heaven. Would both women marvel at how they were hailed as heroines only after their lives as ordinary wives and mothers turned violent? Why does it take a bloody kidnapping or wartime threat of widowhood to make a married mother monumental? Are we so enamored with the arms we have the right to bear, we have no respect for those who defend us unarmed?