Women in the American Revolution

SOURCE: H-WAR, Military History
H-MINERVA, Women in the Military, Women and War
H-WOMEN, Women's History

REPLY: Women in the American Revolution (Thu, 14 Sep 1995 09:35:57 PDT)

SUBMITTED BY: John Darrell Sherwood <gwis2.circ.gwu.edu@KSUVM.KSU.EDU>

Subject:REPLY: Women in the American Revolution

> In a message dated 95-09-13 16:08:00 EDT, Mark Turdo writes:
> > Let me begin by asking this question: Does anyone have any
> >references to women serving as men in the Revolution on either side? I know
> >of Deborah Sampson, Samuel Gay(her real name I believe is unkown to us). I
> >also know that there are at least 11 documented cases of women serving as
> >men but other than that I know nothing else.

The Army Center of Military History is aware of only two documented cases of women serving as men in the Revolution: Deborah Sampson and Samuel Gay. Other women accompanied their husbands' units as camp followers, and on the rarest occasions participated in combat as civilians. Molly Pitcher and Margaret Corbin (who actually received a pension for her wounds) fall into this category. However, in no way can women who followed the Army be considered a branch of the Army. No such persons existed with any official status in any surviving legistlation of the Continental Congress, general orders (the modern equivalent of Army regulations) issued by Washington as Commander in Chief, or other statutory or regulatory authority. The US Army Nurse Corps maintains the distinction of being the first women's branch of the Army: it became an offficial branch in 1901.

For a detailed discussion of women in combat during the American Revolution, please see Jannice McKenney, "Women in Combat: Comment," ARMED FORCES AND SOCIETY, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Summer 1982). This article offers a counterpoint to Linda Grant De Pauw, "Women in Combat: The Revolutionary War Experience," Armed Forces and Society, VII, 2 (Winter 1981), 217-219. For an excellent discussion of camp followers, please see Holly Ann Mayer, "Belonging to the Army: Camp Followers and the Military Community during the American Revolution" (PhD Dissertation, College of William and Mary, 1990).

John Sherwood

To: H-WAR@KSUVM.KSU.EDU COMMENT: Women in the American Revolution ( Mon, 18 Sep 1995 10:12:53 PDT)

SUBMITTED BY: minervacen@aol.com

On September 13, list member Mark Turdo, who identified himself as "a junior history major at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA," began the first extended thread of the MINERVA list when he wrote:
My interest is primarily the American Revolution and before, but other facets of our history are of interest to me. If anyone else is interested in specifically Rev War stuff I have information to share. Let me begin by asking this question: Does anyone have any references to women serving as men in the Revolution on either side?"

On September 14, he was answered by John Sherwood of the US Army Center of Military History who wrote:
"However, in no way can women who followed the Army be considered a branch of the Army. No such persons existed with any official status in any surviving legistlation of the Continental Congress, general orders (the modern equivalent of Army regulations) issued by Washington as Commander in Chief, or other statutory or regulatory authority. The US Army Nurse Corps maintains the distinction of being the first women's branch of the Army: it became an offficial branch in 1901."

In a posting on September 16 John Sherwood wrote again to make the same point:
"The Medical Department certainly deserves more attention. It was one the first organizations to be comprised of US Army civilian workers. It was not until 1901 that nurses were given regular Army status even though civilian nurses in earlier wars performed similar roles."

Many years earlier I wrote:
"The Women of the Army, as George Washington referred to them in his genderal orders, have been misunderstood by historians. After the American military developed other mechanisms to perform the functions traditionally assigned to this branch of the service, its very existence was rapidly forgotten. Those nineteenth and tweentieth- century historians who were aware that thousands of women were present with the Continental Army immediately assumed that they must have been prostitutes..." [Linda Grant De Pauw, "Women in Combat: The American Revolutionary War Experience," Armed Forces and Society, vol VII, no 2 (Winter, 1981), p. 210] In a footnote I added "My designation of the Women of the Army asd a branch of the service is supported by Robert L. Goldich, Analyst in National Defense, Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. In an unpublished manuscript he states, 'All evidence indricates that they were considered an integral part of the Continental Army, as much as the infantry, artillery, engineers, or other traditional branches of the Army.'"

Armed Forces and Society is a journal directed at defense analysts rather than historians, and the Congressional Research Service provides research to policy makers. Both Goldich and I had axes to grind in 1981, which was less than a year after the graduation of the first women from the service academies. Use of the word "branch" was disingenuous, and it ruffled a lot of feathers, since it suggested not merely that camp followers were essential to the Army, but that they enjoyed a measure of official recognition, approval and appreciation. Contemporary sources make it clear that official recognition, at least, did exist. Official slots for regimental laundresses continued to be funded until General Orders No. 37 of 1878 abolished the position in the American army. Approval and appreciation were something else. Attitudes toward Army women were at best patronizing, at worst contemptuous. Like the cavalry horses, they might serve with the Army but they were never respected as soldiers.

In a paper entitled "Women in the Armed Forces" presented at the Fifth Berkshire Conference of Women Historians a few months after the publication of my article, sociologist M.C. Devilbiss emphasized the distinction between women serving with the Army and those who were formally in the Army. I am still not convinced that the legislation of 1901 creating the Army Nurse Corps made any fundamental difference in the status of women who served. The women recruited into the Army and later the Navy Nurse Corps had only what was called "relative" rank to make it quite clear that they could never give orders or command a salute from any male, and they did not receive the pay or benefits of men who performed the same duties. Not until after World War II did the status of women in the military approach equity. Furthermore, the assumption that all military women are actually prostitutes flourished during what Mattie Treadwell called the "slander campaign" against military women during World War II. Some might argue that even today, the remaining restrictions on women's participation in the military give all males in uniform -- who potentially could be "front-line combatants" -- greater status than their female colleagues.

Writing today, especially for an audience of historians, I would no longer call female civilian employees or military wives a "branch" of George Washington's Army. But I would still insist that no eighteenth century army could have functioned without them. I would also insist that despite the contempt with which camp followers were viewed by their contemporaries, it is appropriate for historians to treat them with respect.

Linda Grant De Pauw
The MINERVA Center, Inc.
20 Granada Road
Pasadena, MD 21122
(410) 437-5379

REPLY: Women in the American Revolution (Wed, 20 Sep 1995 17:22:21 -0500)
Date: Wed, 20 Sep 95 14:04:15 CDT
From: C558382%MIZZOU1.missouri.edu

It is true that many "braches" of the armies of the eighteenth century were unofficial. They become more pervasive the further back one goes. They include supply in the field (mostly provision), supply of equipment, transport, intelligence, black smiths, and of course in the case of mercenaries even troops. Some of these private "branches" were contracted by the government, some by the C-in-C, some by officers down to company commander. Uniform procurement remained decentralized well into the nineteenth century. Camp followers are just one more unofficial service. It might be useful to compare comments on the followers, the horse-traders, the teamsters, etc. to get a better sense of relations on a comparative basis.

Kenneth Gauck

Query: Women in the American Revolution ( Tue, 4 Jul 1995 05:26:47 -0500)
From: <LLIEDEL@KENTVM.KENT.EDU> "Leslie Liedel" 3-JUL-1995 20:47:03.13

I am in the process of putting together lectures for a survey course I will be teaching for the first time this fall. I am seeking information on women who actually joined the ranks in the American Revolution as well as the camp followers. Any info would be greatly appreciated. Re: Women in the American Revolution ( Tue, 4 Jul 1995 19:06:30 -0500)
From: <PSU1994@VM.TEMPLE.EDU> "Jennie" 4-JUL-1995 14:28:01.45

In reply to Leslie Liedel's query about women's Revolutionary War experience, the following may be helpful.

Kerber, Linda K. WOMEN OF THE REPUBLIC: INTELLECT AND IDEOLOGY IN REVOLUTIONARY AMERICA. New York and London: W. W. Norton Company, 1986. (Reprint. Originally published; Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture by the University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

DePauw, Linda Grant. "Women in Combat: The Revolutionary War Experience." ARMED FORCES & SOCIETY. 7, 2 (Winter, 1981): 209-226.

Klaver, Carol. "An Introduction to the Legend of Molly Pitcher." MINERVA. 12, 2 (Summer 1994): 35-61.

Leonard, Patrick L. "Deborah Samson: Official Heroine of the State of Massachusetts." MINERVA. 5, 3 (Fall 1988): 61-66.

Samuelson, Lt. Colonel Nancy B. "Revolutionary War Women and the Second Oldest Profession." MINERVA. 7, 2 (Summer 1989): 16-25.

You might also want to check the bibliography in JOURNAL OF WOMEN'S HISTORY 3 (Spring 1991):141-158 for current literature on women's military experience: the home front, peace activism, and war service as well as the journal MINERVA: QUARERLY REPORT ON WOMEN AND THE MILITARY whose edtoitor is Linda Grant DePaw . Best of luck with your research. Women's military experience is a particular interest of mine and I would enjoy hearing about any information you come across.

Jennie Coleman
Graduate Student
Temple University
(215) 204-3828

Re: Women in the American Revolution ( Tue, 4 Jul 1995 19:09:40 -0500)
From: <HODGDONT@cgs.edu> 4-JUL-1995 16:11:29.15

See Jonathan Ned Katz, ed., GAY AMERICAN HISTORY: LESBIANS AND GAY MEN IN THE U.S.A., rev. ed. (New York: Meridian, 1992), 212-214 for an account of Deborah Sampson, who enlisted in the Revolutionary army under the name Robert Shurtleff. The account is brief, but also references original sources.

Tim Hodgdon
Ph.D. candidate,
Claremont Graduate School

Re: Women in the American Revolution ( Wed, 5 Jul 1995 07:30:32 -0500)
From: <"mroller@aps.k12.ne.us> "Maurine Roller" 4-JUL-1995 21:23:17.51

Several sources you might want to consider include: Linda Kerber's *Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America* published in 1980.

Mary Beth Norton *Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800* published 1980.

Norton: "What an Alarming Crisis is This: Southern Women and the American Revolution," in *The Southern Experience in the American Revolution,* pp. 203-34. Edited by Jeffrey J. Crow and Larry Tise. 1978.

Norton: "Eighteenth Century American Women in Peace and War: The Case of the Loyalists." William and Mary Quarterly 33 (July 1976): 386-409. Hope these help.

Maurine Roller

From: Kriste Lindenmeyer <KAL6444@tntech.edu>
To: Multiple recipients of list H-WOMEN <H-WOMEN@MSU.EDU>

From: <awentwor@sescva.esc.edu> 22-MAY-1996 14:59:17.78

I am surprised no one has mentioned Deborah Sampson Gannett (alias "Timothy Thayer" and "Robert Shurtleff") who twice enlisted in the American forces during the American Revolution--dressed as a man. The first time she was discovered, but the second time she served for 18 months until she was wounded and eventually given an honorable discharge. She went home to Massachusetts, married, had a family & eventually received pensions from both the national and state governments. I am not sure she qualifies as a "feminist", but after her death her husband received a widower's pension based on his wife's service--quite a role reversal for the time!

Back during the Bicentenial some group did a film on her here in the Hudson Valley and she is occasionally mentioned in articles and history books.

There was also a teenager whose name escapes me at the moment who did a Paul Revere type ride in southern Dutchess County to warn the community that the British were coming. She has never gotten the press that Paul did though!

Ann K. Wentworth
SUNY-Empire State College

Re: Women in the American Revolution ( Thu, 13 Jun 1996 10:55:32 -0400)
---------------FORWARDED FROM H-WOMEN------------------

Date: Wed, 12 Jun 1996 15:26:32 -0600
From: "Stacy A. Cordery" <STACY@wpoff.monm.edu>

I apologize for taking so long to put my two cents in, but have been working on the H-Women's Web page bibliographys and discussions. When webmistress Melanie Shell returns after June 22nd, I would urge everyone to take a look at the updated pages (actually...there's a lot of new things there right now.)

Anyway...I picked up a book today called _Women's World: A Timeline of Women in History_; Irene M. Franck and David M. Brownstone, eds.; HaperCollins, 1995.

Re: some of the women who have been mentioned in this thread, this is what I found written about them:

"Deborah Sampson( Gannett) 1760-1827, American Revolutionary War soldier(as Robert Shurtliff)" p.78 "Deborah Sampson (later Gannett) was discharged from the Revolutionary Army(1783) when it was discovered that she was a woman; as Robert Shurtliff she had enlisted and fought, sustaining wounds at Tarrytown." p. 84 "...She later received a soldier's pension." p102 "_The Female Review; or, Life of Deborah Sampson_ was published(1797), a greatly fictionalized biography of a woman who fought as a man..." p.89

"Molly Pitcher(Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, 1754-1832), reputed hero of the American Revolution" p.76. "At the Battle of Monmouth (June 26, 1778), Mary Ludwig Hays carried water (and so was nicknamed Molly Pitcher) to the troops of the Pennsylvania Artillery, including her husband. She was said to have taken his place as a cannoneeer after he was wounded; she became a Revolutionary War hero and was later awarded a state pension(1822)." p.81

No mention of Mercy Otis Warren. One mention of Betsy Ross.

Given Linda Grant De Pauw's excellent information about Pitcher in particular, I wonder what sources this current book used??

Re: the term "feminist" being used in colonial times...after an *extremely* cursory glance thru the book's timeline for that period, I didn't see the term "feminist" used until the year 1791 and it was in conjunction with Etta Aedlers Palm, a Dutch woman who made a speech on the rights of women to the French Assembly that year. Conversely, Mary Wollstonecraft is mentioned several times before and after the entry about Etta Palm, with no use of the word "feminist". Again, I would wonder what the qualifying achievement or attitude was to gain the word "feminist" behind one's name in this book?

The book is informational, although due to space there's not much depth. And historians of today could rightly call most of the women in the book "feminist" so I'm sure the editors were being judicious in the use of that term. (although by 1810 there's a great many more references to "feminists" and "women's rights advocates")

In typing this thread for the web page, I was particularly struck by the question of Ilene Feinman as to what members of the list are doing (or perhaps know of others who are doing same) scholarship work on women in the military...with emphasis on what it means for our society and/or the US armed forces to have so many women of different ' classes, racial/ethnic and sexual identifications' in the military now. And if the work isn't being done, then my own question is why not?

And I would love to see answers to Linda's questions(re: feminism in a broader scope)......' Was Joan of Arc a feminist?' 'Boudicca?' 'How about Hannah Reitsch to whom Hitler awarded the Iron Cross?' Someone on this list must have an opinion about this?

Maria Elena Raymond