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Women During the Revoutionary War - History

Women During the Revoutionary War - History

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Women During the Revolutionary War

By Awet Amedechiel

The majority of colonial women made small, but vital contributions to the Revolutionary War effort. Betsy Ross' mythical creation of the first flag of the United States is the most famous female achievement of the Revolutionary era, but it is only one example of the many stories of women making a difference during and after the war. The success of the boycott of British goods in the 1760's and early 1770's was acknowledged to have depended largely on the dedication of American women and their willingness to alter their patterns of consumption. Many women made products at home, especially clothing, thus facilitating the boycott without overstepping the bounds of the domestic sphere. Other women tried to impact the struggle for independence and the development of principles for the new nation through their husbands. Abigail Adams corresponded frequently with her husband, once cautioning him to "remember the ladies" at the Continental Congress of 1776. Although the social mores of the time did not easily permit female participation in the Revolutionary war, many women managed to take more direct action in support of the patriotic cause. In October of 1774, 51 women from the Society of Patriotic Ladies at Edenton, North Carolina, signed a statement declaring their commitment to the patriot cause and their intention to do so all in their power to further that cause. In Philadelphia, Esther Berdt Reed organized the fundraising, purchase of materials, and production of shirts for the American Continental Army. She and the women with whom she worked raised $7,500 in a few weeks, a huge amount at that time. When Reed died in a dysentery epidemic, several other women, including Benjamin Franklin's daughter, Sarah Franklin Bache, continued her work.

Some women even participated in the military side of the war. Many women found themselves in the position of having to defend their homes and families from attacks by British and Native American troops. American artist Patience Lovell Wright smuggled secret information to American forces in Philadelphia, concealed in her wax figures. Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler, wife of Revolutionary War General Philip Schuyler, burned the wheat fields around Albany, NY, in order to prevent British forces from harvesting them. Her action inspired others similar acts of resistance. Mary Ludwid Hays, was nicknamed "Molly Pitcher" because she carried water to American soldiers during the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. She even operated her husband's cannon when he fell in battle. Hays was made a sargeant by General Washington and, after the war, received a pension and was buried with full military honors. Betty Zane saved a fort that was under siege by Native Americans during one of the final Native American attacks of the Revolutionary War. She carried gunpowder to replenish the depleted supply of the colonial forces. According to an anonymous journal entry, on August 17, 1775 in East Hartford, Connecticut, a "corps of female infantry," twenty women in all, marched "in martial array and excellent order" to a store. They proceeded to attack and plunder the shop, taking two hundred and eighteen pounds of sugar with them. It is not clear whether this incident actually occurred, but it is well-documented that Deborah Sampson dressed as a man and enlist in the Continental forces in 1782. She served with distinction for a year and a half, and earned a monthly disability pension after the war. Margaret Cochran Corbin also fought and was seriously wounded in the war, and received a pension from the state of Pennsylvania.

Women were also involved in the chronicling of the war. In 1777, Mary Katherine Goddard printed the first official copy of the Declaration of Independence, and paid the post riders to carry it throughout the colonies. Lady Christian Henrietta Caroline Acland, also called Lady Harriet, wrote a narrative of her experiences traveling from England to the American colonies, which was hailed as "one of the brightest episodes in the war." One of the earliest historians of the war was Mercy Otis Warren, whose three-volume History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution was published in 1805.


During initial stages of settlement, the need for labor in the Americas exceeded gender discrimination, and women were able to acquire jobs outside the home, even physically taxing jobs. This was especially true in frontier communities. One example is Susanna Wright, who, in 1771, was acting as legal counselor, unofficial magistrate, and local physician for her neighbors on the frontiers of Pennsylvania.

This social and economic equality resulted from survival necessity, however, and did not indicate any fundamental shifts in social philosophy. The American colonies adhered to the concept of couverture, derived from English common law, according to which married women were considered one with their husbands, and "the very being or legal existence of the woman [was] suspended" after marriage. After independence, these gender inequities were not significantly addressed. Nevertheless, some progress was made. Massachusetts legislation from 1787 led to the granting of property rights to women by allowing women who had been abandoned by their husbands to sell property. One year later, women gained the right to be elected to office in the United States, although only in New Jersey were women allowed to vote, and that too was outlawed by 1806. For African-American women, the Revolutionary War made little impact on their lives. They continued to be slaves in every state, except for Massachusetts, which moved toward emancipation in the 1780's. Many continued to be abused by their mistresses, raped by their masters, and put down by their male coworkers. No rights of citizenship were extended to African-American women, and any successes they achieved was only permitted within a circumscribed area. One example of such sheltered success was Phillis Wheatley, a celebrated African-American poet. Abolitionists used her as an example proving that Africans were not congenitally intellectually inferior. Nevertheless, although she was a firm supporter of independence for the colonies, she was not a proponent of emancipation for slaves. In fact, her poetry expressed thankfulness that she had been delivered from the "darkness" of Africa to the "light" of America.

Native American women faced different social circumstances, depending on the social organization of their tribe. In many tribes, Native American women lived in patterns of sexual segregation. In some New England tribes, for example, women and men ate separately. Tribes as the Ute and Shoshone in the Great Basin region gave women very low social status. In addition, "women's work," usually including domestic and agricultural labor, was generally seperated from "men's work," usually warrior and hunting duties. In other tribes, however, Native American women had more access to positions of power than did their European counterparts. Some tribes, such as the Iroquois of northern New York and the Pueblos of the Southwest, were matrilineal, determining kinship through maternal lines. Such societies allowed women, such as Mary (Konwatsi'tsiaienni) Brant, to obtain status as important political figures. The Cherokee nation had a Women's Council, led by women such as Nancy (Nanye'hi) Ward. Ward also sat as a member of the Council of Chiefs, and took her husband's place in battle when he fell during confrontation between the Creeks and the Cherokees in 1776. In addition to political positions, squaws had authority in the religious sphere, sometimes assuming roles as shamans or priests, which allowed them to practice medicine. In some cases, women acted as both shamans and warleaders. Some women even engaged in trade. Nevertheless, although women were able to hold positions with varying levels of authority within their tribes and clans, most Native American cultures remained heavily male-dominated. Since the vast majority of Native Americans sided with the British, many of the Native American heroes and heroines were individuals who would not have been acclaimed by the patriot Americans. Mohawk leader Mary Brant, for example, was known for having used her considerable influence among Native Americans to keep them loyal to the British. The Revolutionary War probably affected Native American women more through the disruptions of daily life it caused than through any liberal concept which the patriotic struggle may have espoused. In any case, the ideals of a "republican woman" were probably not intended to apply to non-European women, so that the political and social developments which may have arisen from American independence were largely irrelevant to Native Americans. In fact, many tribes might have been better off if Great Britain had won the war, since the British had much more genial relations with most tribes than did the colonial settlers.


Unlike many of their European counterparts, European women in the new republic were expected to know how to cook and efficiently run a household, as well as be able to engage her husband in serious discourse. However, the education available to most women was insufficient to properly facilitate the fulfillment of such demanding roles. Few families educated their daughters beyond the elementary level, and almost no women attended college. Eventually, schools which accepted women or were designed for women were founded in the new nation. "Adventure schools," generally located in the homes of the instructors, were founded in various locations in the colonies. These school emphasized instruction in music, dancing, drawing, painting, needlework, etc., with little attention paid to reading, writing, or mathematics. One of the most well-known adventure schools was founded in Philadelphia in 1754 by Anthony Benezet. In the south, daughters of well-to-do families were taught by tutors. Other, more academically or practically oriented schools included the Moravian Young Ladies Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, opened to non-Moravian girls in 1785, and Sarah Pierce's school in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1792. Such schools trained young women in reading, grammar, geography, history, music, arithmetic, and sometimes astronomy and foreign languages. Schools such as the Katy Ferguson School for the Poor, founded and named after a former slave, dealt with the more urgent need for basic literacy among the poor. The Ferguson School recruited students from the poorhouses on New York, and began in 1793 with 28 black and 20 white students. After the war, several New England academies began to accept women and to allow them to study the same subjects as men, although schools such as Yale University still refused to accept even fully-qualified female students.

Women such as Mary Wollstonecraft in England and Judith Sargent Murray wrote in defense of women's rights. Although most American women might not have publicly approved of Wollstonecraft's views, such as a criticism of marriage, her 1792 book, Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which went through several editions in the United States. Men like Thomas Paine and, later, John Quincy Adams, spoke out in support of women's political and social rights. The bulk of women's writings which survive today seem to suggest that most were less concerned about political equality than about the acknowledgment of the importance and value of the private domestic sphere, which they judged to be equal to the public political sphere. According to Abigail Adams, "if man is Lord, woman is Lordess - that is what I contend for." Most of these writings are from Protestant European middle and upper class women, making it difficult to gage the sentiments of other women of the Revolutionary Era.


While most women of the Revolutionary Era might not be classed as "feminists" in the modern sense, they were among the first to seriously examine the role of women in American society. This, together with their active role in the war itself, laid the groundwork for much of the feminist thought and protest that would occur in the next generation with the dawn of the movement for women's suffrage.

Remembering the Ladies of the American Revolution

O n March 31, 1776, as the crescendo of war drums sounded towards American independence, Abigail Adams wrote a letter to her husband, John Adams, who was attending the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to finish work on the Declaration of Independence:

&ldquoI desire you would Remember the Ladies,&rdquo she wrote. &ldquoIf perticular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.&rdquo

Adam&rsquos articulation on behalf of &ldquothe ladies&rdquo was indeed revolutionary, and has become one of the more famous statements on behalf of early American women&rsquos rights. As writer Virginia Woolf observed in her book A Room of One&rsquos Own, one significance of the end of the 18th century was that &ldquomiddle class women began to write.&rdquo

However, within an 18th-century context, &ldquothe ladies&rdquo referred to an exclusive sorority of white elite female patriots, a concept that, much like the statements &ldquoall men are created equal&rdquo and &ldquoWe the People,&rdquo excluded much of the population of British North America. It&rsquos hard to fault Adams for advocating on behalf of the women of her own class, but women&rsquos experiences during the Revolutionary era were far more diverse than is often assumed.

For example, Patriots from the English elite such as Abigail Adams and Esther Reed, author of the broadside &ldquoThe Sentiments of An American Woman,&rdquo and groups such as the Daughters of Liberty, supported the cause for independence by raising funds for the Continental Army, organizing boycotts of British goods and serving as spies and messengers. Other women, such as Deborah Sampson Gannett, disguised as men and enlisted in the war as soldiers. Meanwhile, thousands of women from the lower classes encamped among the troops performing menial labor and sex work. And all along, as Anne M. Boylan observed in her book Women&rsquos Rights in the United States, women &ldquosought to change the definition of patriotism to include. . . the right to speak and act on political issues.&rdquo

The political empowerment English women sought to obtain by law, Native American women enjoyed by custom. In patrilineal and matrilineal tribal societies, Native women were central to tribal politics. As Lisa L. Moore, et. al. in Transatlantic Feminisms in the Age of Revolutions noted, &ldquoTo the Cherokee, a nation that did not honor and enfranchise its women was a disorderly nation, a dangerous nation, a nation capable of harm.&rdquo Consequently, issues of land and cultural retention proved the deciding factor for Native women&rsquos revolutionary-era political alliance yet as demonstrated by Mohawk Mary &ldquoMolly&rdquo Brant (Tekonwatonti/Konwatsi-Tsiaienni) and Cherokee Nancy Ward (Nanye&rsquohi), Native women were not a monolith.

Mary Brant was the stepdaughter of Chief Brant Canagara Duncka and the wife of Sir William Johnson, British Superintendent of Indian Affairs. She used her political influence in negotiations between her indigenous community and British colonial powers. Brant helped to secure an American defeat at the Battle of Oriskany, N.Y., on Aug. 6, 1777, by passing on information to British/Mohawk loyalists. Fearing retaliation from the Patriots, Brant and her family escaped to Canada, where she became a national heroine.

By contrast, Nancy Ward was a Ghighua or Beloved Woman of the Cherokee Nation and supporter of the Patriot cause. During the 1780s, she and the Council of Cherokee Women pressed colonial administrators on three separate occasions regarding land and women&rsquos rights, which eroded with each treaty negotiation between Indian tribes and Colonial governments. In a speech delivered in 1781, Nancy Ward chided the U.S. Treaty Commission stating, &ldquoYou know Women are always looked upon as nothing . . . Let your Women hear our words.&rdquo

And poet Phyllis Wheatley, whose remarkable life as a former-slave-turned-international-literary-sensation challenged notions that the liberty trumpeted by the Patriots should not be extended to people of African descent, eloquently addressed the meaning of freedom in a poem to The Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth, who supported the Patriot cause as well as in a letter and poem addressed to His Excellency George Washington. Wheatley threw her full support behind the leader of the Continental Army. Numerous African American women served as spies and cross-dressed to serve as soldiers. They bravely fought against the British, believing the promise that a Patriot win would mean liberation from slavery.

To the contrary, Elizabeth Freeman, known as Mum Bette, did not wait for the conclusion of the war to obtain her freedom. In 1781, two years before the American victory, Freeman filed suit in Massachusetts, in Brom and Bett v. Ashley, arguing that slavery was inconsistent with the state&rsquos newly ratified constitution. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed. Freeman became the first black woman to successfully sue for her freedom in the Bay state. Her case implicitly ended slavery in Massachusetts.

The contribution of women to the American Revolution should not be an afterthought. As we celebrate the 240th birthday of the United States of America, let us remember all the ladies whose revolutionary deeds over the course of our history continues to edge us closer to the American ideals of liberty, justice and equality for all.

Historians explain how the past informs the present

Arica L. Coleman is the author of That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia and chair of the Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories at the Organization of American Historians.

First Women Nurses

Nurses in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783)
The Revolutionary War shifted the role of some women from housewives to caregivers on the battlefront. Soon after the Continental Army was created in 1775 to fight in the Revolutionary War, General George Washington was made aware that the wounded and sick required good female nurses, as the wounded soldiers were suffering greatly.

Image: Following the Army by Pamela Patrick White
Many women camp followers were hired to serve as nurses in the Continental Army

Throughout history most healthcare took place in the home by family, friends and neighbors with knowledge of healing practices. In the United States, family-centered sick care remained traditional until the nineteenth century. Sick care delivered by other than family and close acquaintances was generally limited to epidemics and plagues that periodically swept through towns and cities.

As caretakers of children, family and community, it was natural for the women to become the nurses, the caregivers, as human society evolved. Nursing – not prostitution – may be the oldest profession, as some nurses were paid for their services from the beginning. The home, in fact, was the center of health care. Even after the nation’s first hospital opened in Philadelphia in 1751, another century would pass before the public viewed hospitals as reputable and safe.

Turning Camp Followers into Nurses
Nursing in the military was traditionally done by male soldiers. Shortly after the Revolutionary War began in 1775, a request was made by General Horatio Gates for a woman to care for his wounded soldiers. General George Washington asked Congress to provide nurses to attend the sick and matrons to supervise the nurses.

General Washington also wanted to find useful employment for the women who were always hanging around soldiers’ encampments. Many of these camp followers were the wives, daughters and mothers of soldiers, who followed the Army because they were unable to support themselves after their menfolk left home.

In July 1775 a plan was created that provided one nurse for every 10 patients and one matron for every 100 wounded or sick soldiers. This was the first instance of some sort of organized nursing system in the military. The Congress allowed a salary of $2 per month for these nurses matrons were allotted $4 per month. To provide a means of caring for sick soldiers, the Congress also authorized the formation of hospitals.

The army preferred female nurses, not only because women were better at caring for the sick, but also because every woman nursing meant that one more man was freed to fight on the battlefield. But women were not always eager to volunteer for nursing duty. Washington blamed the low compensation rate for the shortage of nurses. In 1776, Congress increased nurses’ pay to $4 a month, and a year later to $8 a month, while surgeons and apothecaries were paid $40 per month.

Although a woman serving as a nurse could receive regular pay and retain a job throughout the war, nursing in the army could be quite hazardous. Exposure to deadly diseases such as smallpox and camp fevers could spell an early death, in addition to being relegated to the dirtiest jobs connected to the medical profession. Officers therefore threatened to withhold rations from women who refused to volunteer.

Despite Congressional efforts to increase the number of women nurses for the army, there remained a shortage throughout the war. Regiments constantly sought women to nurse their sick and wounded. The General Hospital in Massachusetts needed nurses for Cambridge and Roxbury in the spring of 1776. Advertisements promised preference to Boston and Charlestown women.

A few months later in Williamsburg, the Virginia Gazette advertised a request for nurses. In July of 1776, General Nathanael Greene wrote:

The sick being numerous in the hospital and but few women nurses to be had, the Regimental Surgeon must report the number necessary for the sick of the regiment and the colonels are requested to supply accordingly.

In July of 1776, orders for the Pennsylvania battalions at Ticonderoga stated that one woman be chosen from each company to go to the hospital at Fort George to nurse the sick. Returns for the hospital at Albany in July 1777 record nine female nurses. In 1778, Washington ordered his regimental commanders to employ as many nurses as possible to aid regimental surgeons.

In 1781 General Washington sent a letter to Sarah Franklin Bache (daughter of Benjamin Franklin), who was the leader of an association of women who purchased drygoods with their own money and sewed shirts for soldiers. He wrote:

Amidst the distress and sufferings of the Army, whatever sources they have arisen, it must be a consolation to our Virtuous Country Women that they have never been accused of withholding their most zealous efforts to support the cause we are engaged in.

Nursing Care During Epidemics
In 1793 a yellow fever epidemic hit Philadelphia, the capitol city, killing close to 10 percent of the population. Epidemics such as yellow fever, smallpox, malaria and typhus were common in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, often overwhelming the communities in which they occurred and straining the traditional sick care system that relied on family and friends as nurses.

The Free African Society, a nondenominational organization founded for the benefit of free African Americans, provided organized nursing care to yellow fever victims.The Society recruited African American volunteers to provide nursing care for white citizens in the face of an acute shortage of nurses.
In his bestselling 1794 pamphlet, A Short Account of the Malignant Fever Lately Prevalent in Philadelphia with a Statement of the Proceedings that Took Place on the Subject in the Different Parts of the United States, Matthew Carey denigrated people of African descent. He also used racial stereotypes that portrayed hired nurses as drunkards, thieves and prostitutes.

The Free African Society nurses requested that their leaders Absalom Jones and Richard Allen defend their actions in the court of public opinion. They published their own pamphlet, A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People during the Late Awful Calamity in the Year 1793 and a Refutation of Some Censures Thrown Upon Them in Same Late Publication (1794).

Jones and Allen refuted Carey’s accusations and described nursing as “a considerable art, derived from experience, as well as the exercise of the finer feelings of humanity.” In retrospect, the nurses’ humanitarian actions should have advanced a powerful argument for African American equality and citizenship.

Early Nineteenth Century
By the beginning of the nineteenth century, urbanization and industrialization changed the way in which sick individuals received care. Hospitals began to proliferate to serve those who were without the resources to provide their own care, and as hospitals increased in numbers so did the demand for caregivers who would be able to deliver thoughtful care to their patients.

Image: The Philadelphia Almshouse (1835)
Later became Philadelphia General Hospital

Early nineteenth-century hospitals were built mainly in more populated sections of the country, generally in large cities. Nursing care in these institutions differed enormously. In hospitals operated by religious nursing orders, patients received high quality care. But, in other institutions, nursing care was more variable, ranging from good in some hospitals, to haphazard and poor in others.

Nurses in the War of 1812
During the War of 1812 (1812-1815), women were employed as military nurses, just as they had been during the American Revolution. Soldiers’ wives and townswomen near the battlfields were frequently hired by military hospitals to serve as nurses. Commodore Stephen Decatur’s ship’s log reveals the names Mary Allen and Mary Marshall, who worked as nurses on board Decatur’s ship United States on May 10, 1813. They were still on board when the ship sailed May 24, 1813.

Mary Ann Cole served the American Army as a hospital matron during the siege of Fort Erie, Ontario from July – October of 1814, during which 1,800 Americans were killed or wounded. As the Americans inside the fort tried desperately to hold out against British bombardment, Mary Ann went about her duties caring for those sick in the hospital, preparing their meals, dispensing medications and keeping medical records for the Regimental Surgeon.

The women who were allowed to remain in the military encampments during the War of 1812 were chosen by a lottery system. Only six wives were allowed in camp for every one hundred soldiers.
The women were employed as nurses, seamstresses and maids. If a woman’s husband died she had three to six months to greive, and then she had to find a new husband or leave the camp.

The Nurse Society
Recognizing the importance of good nursing care to a patient’s well-being, some physicians initiated courses for those interested in nursing. In 1798 Valentine Seaman, a New York physician, organized an early course of lectures for nurses who cared for maternity patients.

In the early nineteenth century, the Nurse Society of Philadelphia trained women in caring for mothers during childbirth and the postpartum period. Its founder, Dr. Joseph Warrington, a strong advocate of providing instruction for women interested in pursuing nursing as an occupation, authored a book entitled The Nurse’s Guide, Containing a Series of Instruction to Females who wish to Engage in the Important Business of Nursing Mother and Child in the Lying-In Chamber (1839).

The Nurse’s Guide, which each Nurse Society worker received, represents an early example of a nursing handbook. Between 1839 and 1850 the Nurse Society employed about fifty nurses, establishing an early practice of engaging nurses for care of patients in their homes.

The Civil War
The outbreak of the Civil War created an immediate need for capable nurses to care for the enormous number of sick and wounded. About 20,000 women and men served as nurses in both the North and the South. The commendable service rendered by Civil War nurses provided a rationale for future experiments in setting up training programs for nursing.

This is an excerpt from Nursing the Sick and the Training of Nurses, a speech given by Dr. Ann Preston, Dean of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia in 1863:

Among the many wants of society at this period, there is perhaps none more imperative, and none more inadequately supplied, than that of good nurses. The need is not only for a band of educated professional nurses, who shall be fitted to enter the sick homes of strangers… but also for that knowledge and training among women generally which may enable them to sooth and nurse into health their own beloved ones when smitten with disease.

Professional Nurse Education Begins
In 1862 the New England Hospital for Women and Children was founded by Dr. Marie Zakrzewska in Boston, Massachusetts – the first hospital staffed entirely by women physicians and surgeons. Through the years, the Hospital expanded into the complex that today consists of eight buildings near Columbus Avenue, a picturesque collection of Victorian Gothic, Stick Style and Classical Revival architecture.

There, in 1872, Dr. Zakrzewska opened the New England Hospital for Women and Children Training School for Nurses, the first professional nursing school in the US, with forty two students, but only four actually graduated. One of those graduates was Linda Richards, America’s first professionally trained nurse, who graduated in 1873 from the Training School for Nurses. The first professionally trained African American nurse, Mary Eliza Mahoney, graduated there in 1879.

Mary Eliza Mahoney
The first professionally trained African American nurse was Mary Eliza Mahoney. At the age of 18, she began by working at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. In 1878, at age 33, she was accepted in the Hospital’s Training School for Nurses, the first professional nursing program in the country. The training required 12 months in the medical, surgical and maternity wards lectures and instruction by doctors on the ward and four months of work as a private-duty nurse.

After graduation in 1879, Mahoney registered for work as a private-duty nurse. Families that employed Mahoney praised her calm and quiet efficiency. Her professionalism helped raise the status of all nurses. As her reputation spread, Mahoney received requests from patients as far away as New Jersey, Washington, DC and North Carolina.

Mahoney was one of the first black members of the organization that later became the American Nurses Association (ANA). When the ANA was slow to admit black nurses, Mahoney strongly supported the establishment of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN), and she delivered the welcome address at that organization’s first annual convention in 1909.

In that speech, Mahoney recognized the inequalities in nursing education and called for a demonstration at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, in an effort to have more African American students admitted. The NACGN members responded by electing her association chaplain and giving her a lifetime membership.

During the ensuing years, Mahoney helped recruit nurses to join the Association. She was deeply concerned with women’s equality and a strong supporter of the movement to give women the right to vote. When that movement succeeded with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, she was among the first women in Boston to register to vote – at the age of 76.

Mahoney contracted breast cancer in 1923 and died in 1926. Her grave in Everett, Massachusetts is the site of national pilgrimages. In 1936, the NACGN established the Mary Mahoney Award to raise the status of black nurses. The number of African American women in nursing grew from about 2,400 in 1910 to almost 5,000 by 1930. The NACGN merged with the American Nurses Association in 1951, and Mahoney was inducted into the ANA Hall of Fame in 1976.

Women During the Revoutionary War - History

Portrait of Abigail Adams by Benjamin Blythe
  • Occupation: First Lady of the United States
  • Born: November 22, 1744 in Weymouth, Massachusetts Bay Colony
  • Died: October 28, 1818 in Quincy, Massachusetts
  • Best known for: Wife of President John Adams and mother of President John Quincy Adams

Where did Abigail Adams grow up?

Abigail Adams was born Abigail Smith in the small town of Weymouth, Massachusetts. At the time, the town was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony of Great Britain. Her father, William Smith, was the minister of the local church. She had a brother and two sisters.

Since Abigail was a girl, she did not receive a formal education. Only boys went to school at this time in history. However, Abigail's mother taught her to read and write. She also had access to her father's library where she was able to learn new ideas and educate herself.

Abigail was an intelligent girl who wished that she could attend school. Her frustration over not being able to get a better education led her to argue for women's rights later on in life.

Abigail was a young lady when she first met John Adams, a young country lawyer. John was a friend of her sister Mary's fiancé. Over time, John and Abigail found they enjoyed each other's company. Abigail liked John's sense of humor and his ambition. John was attracted to Abigail's intelligence and wit.

In 1762 the couple became engaged to be married. Abigail's father liked John and thought he was a good match. Her mother, however, wasn't so sure. She thought Abigail could do better than a country lawyer. Little did she know that John would one day be president! The marriage was delayed due to an outbreak of smallpox, but finally the couple was married on October 25, 1763. Abigail's father presided over the wedding.

Abigail and John had six children including Abigail, John Quincy, Susanna, Charles, Thomas, and Elizabeth. Unfortunately, Susanna and Elizabeth died young, as was common in those days.

In 1768 the family moved from Braintree to the big city of Boston. During this time relations between the American colonies and Great Britain were getting tense. Events such as the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party occurred in the town where Abigail was living. John began to take a major role in the revolution. He was chosen to attend the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. On April 19, 1775 the American Revolutionary War began with the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

With John away at the Continental Congress, Abigail had to take care of the family. She had to make all sorts of decisions, manage the finances, take care of the farm, and educate the children. She also missed her husband terribly as he was gone for a very long time.

In addition to this, much of the war was taking place close by. Part of the Battle of Lexington and Concord was fought only twenty miles from her home. Escaping soldiers hid in her house, soldiers trained in her yard, she even melted utensils to make musket balls for the soldiers.

When the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought, Abigail woke to the sound of cannons. Abigail and John Quincy climbed a nearby hill to witness the burning of Charlestown. At the time, she was taking care of the children of a family friend, Dr. Joseph Warren, who died during the battle.

During the war Abigail wrote many letters to her husband John about all that was happening. Over the years they wrote over 1,000 letters to each other. It is from these letters that we know what it must have been like on the home front during the Revolutionary War.

The war was finally over when the British surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. John was in Europe at the time working for the Congress. In 1783, Abigail missed John so much that she decided to go to Paris. She took her daughter Nabby with her and went to join John in Paris. When in Europe Abigail met Benjamin Franklin, who she did not like, and Thomas Jefferson, who she did like. Soon the Adams packed up and moved to London where Abigail would meet the King of England.

In 1788 Abigail and John returned to America. John was elected as Vice-President under President George Washington. Abigail became good friends with Martha Washington.

John Adams was elected president in 1796 and Abigail became the First Lady of the United States. She was worried that people wouldn't like her because she was so different from Martha Washington. Abigail had strong opinions on many political issues. She wondered if she would say the wrong thing and make people angry.

Despite her fears, Abigail did not back off her strong opinions. She was against slavery and believed in the equal rights of all people, including black people and women. She also believed that everyone had the right to a good education. Abigail always firmly supported her husband and was sure to give him the woman's point of view on issues.

Abigail and John retired to Quincy, Massachusetts and had a happy retirement. She died of typhoid fever on October 28, 1818. She did not live to see her son, John Quincy Adams, become president.

Remember the Ladies coin by the United States Mint

WAC was disestablished when male and female forces were integrated in 1978.

Slowly, the doors began opening for women seeking a career in military service. Beginning in 1976, women were admitted to all service academies. Basic training became integrated in 1977. A separate branch for women was no longer necessary, so Congress disbanded the Women's Army Corps in 1978.

Of the 119 women who joined the first group of female cadets at West Point, 62 women graduated as second lieutenants in 1980.

4. Lydia Darragh // Undercover Patriot

George Washington maintained a large spy network, including a number of agents in British-occupied Philadelphia. According to her descendants, one of these was Lydia Darragh, a Quaker woman whose home became a meeting place for British officers.

Family legend has it that she often hid in a closet adjoining the room the officers met in, then smuggled word of their plans to her son, who served in the Revolutionary forces. Sometimes she sewed the messages into button covers or hid them in needle books.

If the stories are true, her spying career saved the lives of thousands of Revolutionary soldiers, including Washington himself. Sometime in early December, British officers meeting in Darragh’s home discussed information they’d received that the colonists, led by Washington, were in Whitemarsh. They would launch a surprise attack, they decided. Darragh overheard the plans, then concocted a lie that she needed to purchase flour from a mill outside the city. She was given a pass by the British, then headed straight for the Revolutionary leaders, where she passed the information to an officer in Washington’s army.

Thanks to Darragh’s intelligence, the colonists were prepared for the Redcoats and, after a few skirmishes, the British retreated back into Philadelphia. Unfortunately, historians have been unable to verify many of the family tales surrounding Darragh’s espionage.

Revolutionary Women

Kids learning about Revolutionary Women in this issue will be surprised to find out that while women did not hold the front lines during the War of Independence, they greatly contributed to efforts to keep soldiers fed on the battlefield, lent their voices to political debates, and generally kept the home fires burning. From patriots like Deborah Samson, who actually served secretly in the army, to loyalists like Margaret Draper, who kept publishing the Boston News-Letter after her husband’s death, this evenhanded account of how women influenced the war in big and small ways, laying the groundwork for the suffrage movement that followed much later, is not to be missed.

Equally surprising to kids will be the fact that many of the women who took action during the war were mere teenagers, like Sybil Ludington, a 16-year-old who rode alone 40 miles one rainy night to alert patriots of a planned attack. Other incredible tales of bravery like this make learning about Revolutionary women a high point of the study of early American History. Women even worked as spies during the Revolution, collecting valuable info about the other side and passing it to officers in dangerous acts of defiance. Learning about Revolutionary Women, for kids interested in this era, opens their eyes to a whole other side to this famous war, showing them how great men – as the saying goes – often stand on the shoulders of great women.

Kids learning about Revolutionary Women in this issue will be surprised to find out that while women did not hold the front lines during the War of Independence, they greatly .
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Kids learning about Revolutionary Women in this issue will be surprised to find out that while women did not hold the front lines during the War of Independence, they greatly contributed to efforts to keep soldiers fed on the battlefield, lent their voices to political debates, and generally kept the home fires burning. From patriots like Deborah Samson, who actually served secretly in the army, to loyalists like Margaret Draper, who kept publishing the Boston News-Letter after her husband’s death, this evenhanded account of how women influenced the war in big and small ways, laying the groundwork for the suffrage movement that followed much later, is not to be missed.

Equally surprising to kids will be the fact that many of the women who took action during the war were mere teenagers, like Sybil Ludington, a 16-year-old who rode alone 40 miles one rainy night to alert patriots of a planned attack. Other incredible tales of bravery like this make learning about Revolutionary women a high point of the study of early American History. Women even worked as spies during the Revolution, collecting valuable info about the other side and passing it to officers in dangerous acts of defiance. Learning about Revolutionary Women, for kids interested in this era, opens their eyes to a whole other side to this famous war, showing them how great men – as the saying goes – often stand on the shoulders of great women.

Women During the Revoutionary War - History

What kind of houses did the colonists live in?

Just like today, houses during the Revolutionary War were different depending on where people lived and how much money they had. Poor people often lived in one room homes. Wealthier people would live in two story houses which typically had four rooms downstairs and two upstairs. Many homes had the kitchen in a separate building in order to try and prevent the spread of fires.

Homes during colonial times didn't have running water or electricity. They got light from the fireplace and from candles. Bathrooms were in a separate little building called the "privy" or "necessary".

Did the kids go to school?

Not all kids went to school during the Revolutionary War. More children attended school in the northern colonies than in the south. Often children learned to read and write from ages 6 to 8. After that, usually only wealthy boys continued with school. They attended common school and Latin school where they were taught by a man called the schoolmaster.

The few colleges in the Americas were closed during the war. Also, many schoolmasters enlisted in the army leaving their schools without a teacher.

What type of clothing did they wear?

People who lived during the American Revolution wore similar styles of clothing. Most of the clothing was sewn at home by hand.

Women wore long dresses covered with an apron and a tucker. They also wore mob caps which were pleated cloth bonnets with a ruffled brim. Young girls wore the same style of clothing as the women.

Men wore breeches, stockings, a cotton shirt, a vest, and a tricorn hat. They also wore leather shoes. Wealthy men wore stylish wool coats with shiny buttons. They also wore powdered wigs. A lot of wealthy people had their clothes imported from England. Boys wore the same style of clothing as the men.

Most Colonial families grew vegetables and hunted for their own food. In the city, they would often get food from relatives that had farms or trade for it. They had milk, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and grains from the farms. They ate lots of stews with meats and vegetables.

Cooking took a long time and was a lot of hard work. The women spent a good part of their day cooking. They had to build a fire, milk the cow, pick vegetables, prepare the meat, and bring in water from the outside well. The big meal of the day was usually served around 2pm in the afternoon.

Did the women and children see battles?

The Revolutionary War was fought wherever two armies met up. This was often near towns or on people's farmland. Many people fled their farms as the armies arrived. Sometimes people would wake up to the sounds of cannon fire or musket shots.

Boys could join the army at age 16 as soldiers and even younger as fife, drum, or bugle players. Boys as young as 7 years old joined the army as drummers or message carriers.

Women and girls took part in the war taking care of the soldiers. They cooked for them and sewed their uniforms. They also acted as nurses taking care of the wounded. A few women, called Molly Pitchers, even took part in the fighting.

Women During the Revoutionary War - History

Deborah Sampson became a hero of the American Revolution when she disguised herself as a man and joined the Patriot forces. She was the only woman to earn a full military pension for participation in the Revolutionary army.

Born on December 17, 1760 in Plympton, Massachusetts near Plymouth, Sampson was one of seven children to Jonathan Sampson Jr. and Deborah (Bradford) Sampson. Both were descendants of preeminent Pilgrims: Jonathan of Myles Standish and Priscilla Alden his wife, the great granddaughter of Massachusetts Governor William Bradford. Still, the Sampsons struggled financially and, after Jonathan failed to return from a sea voyage, his impoverished wife was forced to place her children in different households. Five years later, at age 10, young Deborah was bound out as an indentured servant to Deacon Benjamin Thomas, a farmer in Middleborough with a large family. At age 18, with her indenture completed, Sampson, who was self-educated, worked as a teacher during summer sessions in 1779 and 1780 and as a weaver in winter.

In 1782, as the Revolutionary War raged on, the patriotic Sampson disguised herself as a man named Robert Shurtleff and joined the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment. At West Point, New York, she was assigned to Captain George Webb’s Company of Light Infantry. She was given the dangerous task of scouting neutral territory to assess British buildup of men and materiel in Manhattan, which General George Washington contemplated attacking. In June of 1782, Sampson and two sergeants led about 30 infantrymen on an expedition that ended with a confrontation — often one-on-one — with Tories. She led a raid on a Tory home that resulted in the capture of 15 men. At the siege of Yorktown she dug trenches, helped storm a British redoubt, and endured canon fire.

For over two years, Sampson’s true sex had escaped detection despite close calls. When she received a gash in her forehead from a sword and was shot in her left thigh, she extracted the pistol ball herself. She was ultimately discovered — a year and a half into her service — in Philadelphia, when she became ill during an epidemic, was taken to a hospital, and lost consciousness.

Receiving an honorable discharge on October 23, 1783, Sampson returned to Massachusetts. On April 7, 1785 she married Benjamin Gannet from Sharon, and they had three children, Earl, Mary, and Patience. The story of her life was written in 1797 by Herman Mann, entitled The Female Review: or, Memoirs of an American Young Lady . She received a military pension from the state of Massachusetts. Although Sampson’s life after the army was mostly typical of a farmer’s wife, in 1802 she began a year-long lecture tour about her experiences — the first woman in America to do so — sometimes dressing in full military regalia.

Four years after Sampson’s death at age 66, her husband petitioned Congress for pay as the spouse of a soldier. Although the couple was not married at the time of her service, in 1837 the committee concluded that the history of the Revolution “furnished no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity and courage.” He was awarded the money, though he died before receiving it.

Women participated actively in a variety of ways during the War for Independence some even traveled with the Patriot army. Sarah Osborn was a servant in a blacksmith’s household in Albany, New York, when she met and married Aaron Osborn, a blacksmith and Revolutionary war veteran, in 1780. When he re-enlisted as a commissary sergeant without informing her, Sarah agreed to accompany him. They went first to West Point, and Sarah later traveled with the Continental army for the campaign in the southern colonies, working as a washerwoman and cook. Her vivid description included a meeting with General Washington and memories of the surrender of British forces at Yorktown. This account comes from a deposition she filed in 1837, at the age of eighty-one, as part of a claim under the first pension act for Revolutionary war veterans and their widows.

. after deponent had married said [Aaron] Osborn, he informed her that he was returned during the war, and that he desired deponent to go with him. Deponent declined until she was informed by Captain Gregg that her husband should be put on the commissary guard, and that she should have the means of conveyance either in a wagon or on horseback. That deponent then in the same winter season in sleighs accompanied her husband and the forces under command of Captain Gregg on the east side of the Hudson river to Fishkill, then crossed the river and went down to West Point. There remained till the river opened in the spring, when they returned to Albany. Captain Gregg’s company was along, and she thinks Captain Parsons, Lieutenant Forman, and Colonel Van Schaick, but is not positive.

Deponent, accompanied by her said husband and the same forces, returned during the same season to West Point. Deponent recollects no other females in company but the wife of Lieutenant Forman and of Sergeant Lamberson.. . .

Deponent further says that she and her husband remained at West Point till the departure of the army for the South, a term of perhaps one year and a half, but she cannot be positive as to the length of time. While at West Point, deponent lived at Lieutenant Foot’s, who kept a boardinghouse. Deponent was employed in washing and sewing for the soldiers. Her said husband was employed about the camp. . . .

When the army were about to leave West Point and go south, they crossed over the river to Robinson’s Farms and remained there for a length of time to induce the belief, as deponent understood, that they were going to take up quarters there, whereas they recrossed the river in the nighttime into the Jerseys and traveled all night in a direct course for Philadelphia. Deponent was part of the time on horseback and part of the time in a wagon. Deponent’s said husband was still serving as one of the commissary’s guard.

. . . They continued their march to Philadelphia, deponent on horseback through the streets, and arrived at a place towards the Schuylkill where the British had burnt some houses, where they encamped for the afternoon and night. Being out of bread, deponent was employed in baking the afternoon and evening. Deponent recollects no females but Sergeant Lamberson’s and Lieutenant Forman’s wives and a colored woman by the name of Letta. The Quaker ladies who came round urged deponent to stay, but her said husband said, “No, he could not leave her behind.” Accordingly, next day they continued their march from day to day till they arrived at Baltimore, where deponent and her said husband and the forces under command of General Clinton, Captain Gregg, and several other officers, all of whom she does not recollect, embarked on board a vessel and sailed down the Chesapeake. . . .They continued sail until they had got up the St. James River as far as the tide would carry them, about twelve miles from the mouth, and then landed, and the tide being spent, they had a fine time catching sea lobsters, which they ate.

They, however, marched immediately for a place called Williamsburg, as she thinks, deponent alternately on horseback and on foot. There arrived, they remained two days till the army all came in by land and then marched for Yorktown, or Little York as it was then called. The York troops were posted at the right, the Connecticut troops next, and the French to the left. In about one day or less than a day, they reached the place of encampment about one mile from Yorktown. Deponent was on foot and the other females above named and her said husband still on the commissary’s guard. . . . Deponent took her stand just back of the American tents, say about a mile from the town, and busied herself washing, mending, and cooking for the soldiers, in which she was assisted by the other females some men washed their own clothing. She heard the roar of the artillery for a number of days, and the last night the Americans threw up entrenchments, it was a misty, foggy night, rather wet but not rainy. Every soldier threw up for himself, as she understood, and she afterwards saw and went into the entrenchments. Deponent’s said husband was there throwing up entrenchments, and deponent cooked and carried in beef, and bread, and coffee

On one occasion when deponent was thus employed carrying in provisions, she met General Washington, who asked her if she “was not afraid of the cannonballs?”

She replied, “No, the bullets would not cheat the gallows,” that “It would not do for the men to fight and starve too.”

They dug entrenchments nearer and nearer to Yorktown every night or two till the last. While digging that, the enemy fired very heavy till about nine o’clock next morning, then stopped, and the drums from the enemy beat excessively. Deponent was a little way off in Colonel Van Schaick’s or the officers' marquee and a number of officers were present, among whom was Captain Gregg, who, on account of infirmities, did not go out much to do duty.

The drums continued beating, and all at once the officers hurrahed and swung their hats, and deponent asked them, “What is the matter now?”

One of them replied, “Are not you soldier enough to know what it means?”

They then replied, “The British have surrendered.”

Deponent, having provisions ready, carried the same down to the entrenchments that morning, and four of the soldiers whom she was in the habit of cooking for ate their breakfasts.

Deponent stood on one side of the road and the American officers upon the other side when the British officers came out of the town and rode up to the American officers and delivered up [their swords, which the deponent] thinks were returned again, and the British officers rode right on before the army, who marched out beating and playing a melancholy tune, their drums covered with black handkerchiefs and their fifes with black ribbands tied around them, into an old field and there grounded their arms and then returned into town again to await their destiny. Deponent recollects seeing a great many American officers, some on horseback and some on foot, but cannot call them all by name. Washington, Lafayette, and Clinton were among the number. The British general at the head of the army was a large, portly man, full face, and the tears rolled down his cheeks as he passed along. She does not recollect his name, but it was not Cornwallis. She saw the latter afterwards and noticed his being a man of diminutive appearance and having cross eyes. . . .

After two or three days, deponent and her husband, Captain Gregg, and others who were sick or complaining embarked on board a vessel from Yorktown, not the same they came down in, and set sail up the Chesapeake Bay and continued to the Head of Elk, where they landed. The main body of the army remained behind but came on soon afterwards. Deponent and her husband proceeded with the commissary’s teams from the Head of Elk, leaving Philadelphia to the right, and continued day after day till they arrived at Pompton Plains in New Jersey. Deponent does not recollect the county. They were joined by the main body of the army under General Clinton’s command, and they set down for winter quarters. Deponent and her husband lived a part of the time in a tent made of logs but covered with cloth, and a part of the time at a Mr. Manuel’s near Pompton Meetinghouse. She busied herself during the winter in cooking and sewing as usual. Her said husband was on duty among the rest of the army and held the station of corporal from the time he left West Point.

In the opening of spring, they marched to West Point and remained there during the summer, her said husband still with her. In the fall they came up a little back of New-burgh to a place called New Windsor and put up huts on Ellis’s lands and again sat down for winter quarters, her said husband still along and on duty. The York troops and Connecticut troops were there. In the following spring or autumn they were all discharged. Deponent and her said husband remained in New Windsor in a log house built by the army until the spring following. Some of the soldiers boarded at their house and worked round among the farmers, as did her said husband also.

Deponent and her said husband spent certainly more than three years in the service, for she recollects a part of one winter at West Point and the whole of another winter there, another winter at Pompton Plains, and another at New Windsor. And her husband was the whole time under the command of Captain Gregg as an enlisted soldier holding the station of corporal to the best of her knowledge.

In the winter before the army were disbanded at New Windsor, on the twentieth of February, deponent had a child by the name of Phebe Osborn, of whom the said Aaron Osborn was the father. A year and five months afterwards, on the ninth day of August at the same place, she had another child by the name of Aaron Osborn, Jr., of whom the said husband was the father. . . .

About three months after the birth of her last child, Aaron Osborn, Jr., she last saw her said husband, who then left her at New Windsor and never returned. He had been absent at intervals before this from deponent, and at one time deponent understood he was married again to a girl by the name of Polly Sloat above Newburgh about fifteen or sixteen miles. Deponent got a horse and rode up to inquire into the truth of the story. She arrived at the girl’s father’s and there found her said husband, and Polly Sloat, and her parents. Deponent was kindly treated by the inmates of the house but ascertained for a truth that her husband was married to said girl. After remaining overnight, deponent determined to return home and abandon her said husband forever, as she found he had conducted in such a way as to leave no hope of reclaiming him. About two weeks afterwards, her said husband came to see deponent in New Windsor and offered to take deponent and her children to the northward, but deponent declined going, under a firm belief that he would conduct no better, and her said husband the same night absconded with two others, crossed the river at Newburgh, and she never saw him afterwards. This was about a year and a half after his discharge.

After deponent was thus left by Osborn, she removed from New Windsor to Blooming Grove, Orange County, New York, about fifty years ago, where she had been born and brought up, and, having married Mr. [John] Benjamin . . . she continued to reside there perhaps thirty-five years, when she and her husband Benjamin removed to Pleasant Mount, Wayne County, Pennsylvania, and there she has resided to this day. Her said husband, John Benjamin, died there ten years ago last April, from which time she has continued to be and is now a widow.

Watch the video: Women in the American Revolution (May 2022).