Role of Women in the American Revolutionary War
The achievements of men usually overshadow the role of women in the history of America. However, women have been very important in establishing liberal America that people live in today. The accomplishments of women in the American revolutionary war is hardly reported in historical books. During the American Revolution (1775-1783), women played a role in a variety of ways, including the creation of organizations, becoming camp followers, and by gathering intelligence for the Patriot cause.
One of the roles of women during the American Revolution was the role of camp followers (Charles, 1953). Camp followers were individuals who went with the army to different locations and camped with them throughout the war. Camp followers were mainly women who were mostly mothers and wives of the military men in the camps. Camp followers performed various duties in the military camps. The roles included cooking for the soldiers, washing clothes, water bearers, and seamstresses among other roles (Roles of Women in the American Revolution and the Civil War, 1994). Camp followers mostly participated in domestic duties that men either did not do at the time or men were not good at such chores when they did them. The camp followers were usually given rations of food and in exchange assisted the army men with the chores. Therefore, average women camp followers did regular house chores that are usually done in homesteads and at times were sexual partners of the army men (Charles, 1953). In other cases, camp followers would go to scavenge outside the military camp to get supplies and food. Even though the roles of the camp followers may seem insignificant, they were essential because they created environments that were homelike by improving living conditions such as hygiene and making the men happier than they would be without them. For instance, after the wars, the men returned to the camps and found hot and fresh meals that they ate (DeAngelis & Matthews, 2016). Without the women camp followers, such would not be possible. The camp followers would also clean and mend the uniforms in preparation for battles and tell stories to the men.
Even though the stories and specific acts of camp followers may never be known because they were hardly documented, the limited evidence that is available shows that the women were revolutionary. For instance, one of such women is Sarah Osborne. Sarah Osborne went with her husband, and they moved together in the whole war from place to place (DeAngelis & Matthews, 2016). Osborne began her followership by preparing meals for the soldiers and then went on to bake and sew for the men in the war. Sarah is reported to have once cooked behind the American line that was one mile from Yorktown where there was a battle. Sarah is also reported to have taken bread and beef to the men in battle. The determination of Sarah Osborne to ensure that the men were well fed as they fought for independence is an admirable thing that contributed to the sustenance of the men at war. It the acts of women such as Sarah Osborne who played the role of camp followers that improved the morale of the men (DeAngelis & Matthews, 2016). Women had various reasons for becoming camp followers. The reasons for following the army men included to avoid abuse by the British soldiers and to be safe from death. Some women also volunteered to follow the men and others sought to escape from poverty by working for the army during the war. Nevertheless, despite the reasons, the women were brave and very instrumental in the lives and sustenance of the American soldiers that fought the war.
Women also played the role of spies during the Revolutionary War. According to Graf (2005), the American army needed intelligence about attacks and the plans of the British army and the navy to strategize for the war and the battles in it. Graf uses the example of General George Washington in her article about the role of women as eavesdroppers and spies for the American army in the war. According to the author, Washington thought that spies were important. Therefore, he arranged for secret agents to be recruited. Even though most of the spies were men, some women participated. Lydia Darragh is one of the spy women who helped feed General Washington with important intelligence (Agent 355, 2017). The woman saved the army of General Washington from an ambush that had been planned by the British army in her house. Lydia Darragh lived in Philadelphia, a town that was controlled by the British at the time and was, therefore, able to access information without raising suspension and send it to the general. When Lydia reported to the American army of the impending ambush, she listened to a conversation among British officers who had met in her house and were plotting the attack. The woman heard the members of the army discussing how they would ambush the Americans at Whitemarsh, a camp that was about 15 miles from Philadelphia (Graf, 2005). Therefore the spy made a plan of her own and left in the morning in the pretense of going to get flour for baking from a flour mill. She met an officer of the camp of Washington and passed the warning to him. Therefore, the army was prepared for the ambush, and it was not defeated.
Another woman that was a spy for America was the sculptor Patience Wright. Patience Wright spied to assist the Americans in the war. The artist was living in England where she created sculptures of wax of famous English people (Graf, 2005). While working on her pieces, she spoke to the prominent people and noted the conversations which she hid inside the sculptures and shipped to America. Another memorable and brave spy was Emily Geiger. Emily Geiger was a teenager who became a spy and volunteered to deliver sensitive information through enemy territory. According to Graf (2005), Geiger was captured at one point. However, rather than let the British find the message, she read it and understood it before eating the paper. The British found nothing and therefore allowed her to go. The critical security role of women as spies for their beloved country was undoubtedly significant even though they always never fired guns.
Women are also reported to have actively participated as soldiers in the revolutionary war. According to Cookie Robert, women participated in the American revolutionary war directly on various documented occasions (Roberts & Roberts, 2004). One of the notable women who were soldiers is Margaret Corbin. In the story of the brave Margaret Corbin, her husband was called John and was killed in the battlefield while firing artillery in New York. Therefore, Margaret Corbin took the place of her husband and fought against the British bravely. In the battle, Margaret Corbin had sustained several gunshot wounds when the British army took over the post. Margaret Corbin was the only women to be honored for her participation in the revolutionary war (Roberts & Roberts, 2004). Because her wounds disabled her, Continental Congress awarded the brave lady half the salary of a serviceman and clothing. After many years, the Daughters of the American Revolution requested to rebury Margaret at West Point to honor her, and the Congress granted the request. Deborah Sampson too fought among men in the American Revolution. Deborah Sampson secretly sewed a suit of male clothes and pretended to be a man to enlist as Robert Shurtliff (Roberts & Roberts, 2004). Deborah was wounded several times in the war but kept fighting alongside men and volunteered in the war. While her colleagues in the military called her Molly, they did not think.
Another well-known woman believed to have participated in an active military role is Molly Pitcher (Roberts & Roberts, 2004). In the famous tale of the women, she is believed to have replaced her husband in firing a cannon after the husband was killed in the battlefield in Monmouth. Even though some people believed that the name Molly Pitcher might have been a generic name for women who participated in water carrying in the battlefield, the tale makes it clear that women were instrumental not only as spies and camp followers but also army people.
Women also contributed material and financial help to the army during the war to help win the war. Arendt (2014) discusses how a French correspondent Francois Jean de Beauvoir who also worked with the American army documented women in Philadelphia seeking funds and materials to help their men in the war. According to Arendt (2014), in 1780, the government had spent a lot on the military and therefore needed help from citizens to sustain the war for independence. Prominent problems at the time that the military faced include the lack of military supplies, urban rioting, and mutinies in the military, and political groupings after the defeat of Charleston. The defeats of American soldiers threatened the citizens, and people became very willing to support their soldiers (Kneib, 2004). Women too were not left behind. Francois Jean de Beauvoir reported how women in Philadelphia from wealthy families created an association to help their soldiers in the war with supplies. The women also mobilized other women and offered civil education on issues that affected the country at the time. According to Francois Jean de Beauvoir, he entered the storage at the home of a woman called Sarah Bache. Bache was the daughter of Benjamin Franklin. The lady had about 2000 shirts meant for soldiers that fought at the Pennsylvania line (Kneib, 2004). According to the Frenchman, the ladies had contributed money from their purses and bought linen which they cut and made into shirts for the soldiers. The French said that the production was of a large scale and it was a significant contribution to the war. In the case recorded by Francois Jean de Beauvoir and examined by Arendt (2014) women took an economic role at a time when their men were busy fighting for their independence.
Women also served as nurses during the revolution. Women’s role as nurses in the war was cemented by a resolution that was passed by Congress in 1775. According to the resolution, there were to be nurses in the continental hospitals at the nurse/patient ratio of 1:10. The nurses were to be paid 2 dollars each, and their matrons were paid 4 dollars per month (Susan, 2015). The Congress worked to increase the number of nurses in the army by increasing their pay and other motivations. However, the number of nurses remained minimal. Therefore, the regiments commonly sought women to work as nurses when people were injured. An example of nurses at the time is Elisabeth Brewer. Elisabeth Brewer was a nurse who worked for the American regiments and later found to be a spy for the British. Another notable woman in the practice of health at the time is Margaret Hill Morris (Susan, 2015). Ms. Morris was a healer who opened a clinic at the time to treat people.
Women have not been reported a lot in history books for their participation in the American Revolution. However, they were very instrumental in America winning the war. Women served at different capacities in the war. The roles of women include being camp followers, nursing the injured men, spying for the American army, mobilizing resources and actively fighting in the war.
- Agent 355. (2017, April 02). Retrieved from http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2011/12/agent-355.html
- Arendt, E. J. (2014). ‘Ladies Going about for Money’: Female Voluntary Associations and Civic Consciousness in the American Revolution. (2), 157. doi:10.1353/jer.2014.0024
- Charles E. Hatch, J. (1953). Women Camp Followers of the American Revolution Walter Hart Blumenthal. The William And Mary Quarterly, (2), 333. doi:10.2307/2936971 Cohn, J. (2003). Serving Her Country. Read, 53(6), 28.
- DeAngelis, G., & Matthews, A. (2016). Camp Followers. Cobblestone, 37(3), 26. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.umuc.edu/login?
- Graf, C. (2005). From Eavesdroppers to Secret Agents. Appleseeds, 8(4), 29.
- Kaplan, C. (2005). Old Tales in A New Narrative: Rethinking the Story of Women and the American Revolution. Reviews In American History, 33(3), 309-313.
- Kneib, M. (2004). Women Soldiers, Spies, and Patriots of the American Revolution. The Rosen Publishing Group, 50(12), 63.
- Roberts, C., & Roberts, C. (2004). Founding Mothers. Harper Audio.
- Roles of Women in the American Revolution and the Civil War. (1994). Retrieved from https://www.socialstudies.org/sites/default/files/publications/se/5802/580204.html
- Susan, B. (2015). ‘Getting into a Little Business’: Margaret Hill Morris and Women’s Medical Entrepreneurship during the American Revolution. (4), 774. doi:10.1353/eam.2015.0034