By Amanda Huffman
Many of the roles filled by women in the military during World Wars I and II were also performed by women in even the earliest wars of America’s history. So, while the first woman to officially serve in the military didn’t join until World War I, women’s service extends all the way back to the Revolutionary War, the War for America’s Independence. These amazing stories of women fighting to gain freedom from the British are often unknown, but truly played a part in the Colonies gaining independence from Great Britain and should be shared.
One of the most famous military spouses of the Revolutionary War was Martha Washington. She spent about half of the duration of the Revolutionary War in the Continental Army camps, as women often did at that time, cooking and caring for the regiments. While she was in the camps, she copied George Washington’s letters, knitted for soldiers, and visited hospitals. She also helped raise money to buy supplies for soldiers.
But Martha Washington wasn’t the only woman to stay in the Continental Army Camps. As the war ran on and the continental troops continued to serve often without pay it forced many families to follow the continental troops. With many living outside the Forts/camps in tents nearby. Unable to survive on their own or no longer having a home due to the casualties of war.
Women needed to survive and so they worked to help the military. They were supposed to receive payment, but often like many of the men in the camp, their only payment was a food ration. Many women worked washing and mending soldiers’ clothes for 50 men; one woman was assigned to keep up with the cleaning and mending. Women also worked as nurses, but not in today’s version of nursing. Women were not allowed to see men naked so the jobs of nurses were cleaning chamber pots and changing bedding.
There are also stories of women whose husbands or fathers worked on cannon crews. The women would haul water to cool down and clean the cannon barrels while also providing water for the men to drink. Some of these women even took up arms and filled their husband’s spot when they were wounded or killed. One of these women was Margaret Corbin. She was wounded and received a soldier’s pension after the war and is buried in West Point’s cemetery.
But not all women chose to embrace traditional roles during America’s War for Independence from Great Britain. A number of women dressed up as men and fought in combat. Many were able to keep their identity hidden until being wounded and a doctor discovering their gender. One of the most famous women who served in this capacity is Deborah Sampson. She fought under her brother’s name as a private.
Women also served as spies and scouts for both the American and British forces because the troops often had little reason to suspect them and often ignored them. This gave the women the opportunity to provide valuable information to their allies. One of the most famous scouts for America’s forces was Margaret Moore Berry who became known as the “Heroine of the Battle of Cowpens.”
Along with women who served as spies for the Continental Army, British forces also used women as spies. Ann Bates began to spy on the American forces when her husband signed up to serve in the British Army. She would dress up, disguise herself as a peddler, and bring reports of troop size to the British leaders.
Women helped in so many ways during the War for American Independence. And while we should still celebrate how men such as General Washington led the Continental Army to victory, we shouldn’t forget that without women working alongside them in camps helping to ensure their basic needs were met and sometimes even stepping up to fight alongside the men who served the war for independence would have been different.
Amanda is a military veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer who served on a combat deployment with the Army in Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career in the Space Force. Amanda is the host of the Women of the Military podcast. There she shares the stories of women who have served or are serving in the military. The podcast has over 200 episodes and over 100K downloads. Amanda is also an author and has published two books. Her first book, Women of the Military tells the stories of 28 military women who served in the military. Her second book, A Girl’s Guide to Military Service, is the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Winner for Teen Non Fiction. It is a guide for high school girls considering military service to help them build a strong foundation for their future career. She also works as a freelance writer and has been featured in a number of military publications including The War Horse, Military.com, Military Families Magazine, Clearance Jobs, Military Spouse Magazine, and more.