I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Women not only existed back in the 1770's, but were actually quite important to the happenings of the time.

"What you say!!"

I kid you not. It's true, although you probably would never know by most of the history textbooks scattered through the wasteland of US public education. Or at least the history textbooks I had was forced to read. Anyway, historians even argue without the support of women, American Independence from Britain through the Revolutionary War may have never been achieved. Often overlooked in many histories of the war, women not only played a vital role in keeping the country's economy and infrastructure running, but also participated in the actual conflict.

Helping the country

With one out of eight Americans participating in the war and most of them being males, many of their responsibilities were left to the women. They had to take over as blacksmiths, ship builders, weavers, carpenters, and shop keepers among other things. Businesses were kept running and buildings were kept in repair by women. A large portion of the economy and manufacturing was left in the hands of women. It wasn't easy, either. As colonies, the original thirteen states got many materials from Britain. With boycotts on British supplies, women were forced to find creative, self sustaining ways to deal with the lack of resources. For example, with tea being on the major "don't buy from England" list, women began using tea producing plants originally found in North America. I guess that's why the British hate US tea so much.

Helping the military

Women contributed generously to the actual military aspect of the revolution as well. Wives formed groups called "camp followers" that would basically follow their husbands' armies around. They would gather money, ammunition, and food as well as cook and nurse the wounded. The British papers got a real kick out of this; they ruthlessly ridiculed the Americans for relying on female assistance in war. Unfortunately for the women, the Commander-in-Chief, George Washington, ordered a ban on their camping following activities. He didn't do so as act of chauvinistic male pride; he felt the prostitution and its affects that the women brought along was bad for the men's morale.

Women even picked up arms and fought during the war. The mythological archetype of Molly Pitcher, whether she existed or not, set the historical reality of how women came to jumping in a battle: a husband would be wounded or killed and the wife would vengefully pick up his weapon and continue in his place.

Historically famous women of the war

The only official recognized female soldier of the war was Deborah Samson (sometimes erroneously spelled Sampson). She cut her hair and wrapped cloth around her chest to disguise herself. Joining under her brother's name, Robert Shirtliffe, she successfully hid her identity from her fellow soldiers for three years. She was even wounded. Twice. Yeah, those physicians back then weren't exactly thorough in their examinations. Eventually, she was found out when she came down with a bad fever. The doctor, sympathizing with her, told no one until after the war had ended. Legend has it that George Washington himself handed her the papers honorably discharging her from the service. In the aftermath of the war, she married and a bill was passed that gave her a pension for her contributions.

Lydia Darragh was another woman who helped the revolutionary cause significantly. She is one of the most recognized spies in the war. Like many other households during the time, the British garrisoned her house and turned it into a place for soldiers. Being a Quaker, she felt that she should have no part in the bloodshed. After overhearing about an attack of Washington's troops at Whitemarsh, she decided there would be less loss of life if she took action. Under the guise of going to town to buy supplies, she met some of Washington's troops and relayed what she had overheard. Because of Darragh, a potentially devastating ambush of the American soldiers turned into a disappointing non-battle for the British. They discovered her espionage and confined her to her room. Her young son, however, continued to spy on them and relay information to the American army.

One of the more humorous female characters in the war was Sara Franklin, the niece of the Founding Father, Ben Franklin. She collected metal statues of King George in Philadelphia and proceeded to melt them into bullets for the revolutionary cause. How IRONic.

Sybil Ludington is very comparable as a female counterpart to Paul Revere. After Danbury had been sacked by the British, she rode around to nearby villages to rally troops. Due to her warning, the Americans were able to stop the British raids at Ridgefield and force them back to Long Island Sound.

Mercy Otis Warren wrote political plays and the first recorded history of the American Revolution. Her plays explored the benefits of American independence while taking shots at the British. Using notes she took from conversations and interviews, she produced "History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution."

There are many more examples of female presence during the revolution: Margaret Corbin survived the attack on Fort Washington as another actual female soldier. Judith Murray wrote political pamphlets. Some of the political ideas of John Adams' wife, Abigail Adams, discussed found its way into the founding documents. Elizabeth Griscom (aka Betsy Ross) is known for making the first American flag.


I mentioned the roles and the women I found the most interesting and important. If you think I've left anything important out, feel free to /msg me.

Sources: http://www.americanrevolution.org/nguyen.html http://userpages.aug.com/captbarb/femvets.html http://rims.k12.ca.us/women_american_revolution US Formative history class

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.