The Roles of Women in the Revolutionary War

Women took on many roles in the Revolutionary War, ranging from supportive jobs like nurses, cooks, and maids to more direct roles such as secret soldiers and spies.

Nurses: Many nurses were originally camp followers: wives, daughters, and mothers of male soldiers who followed the army looking for food and protection. Female nurses did mostly custodial work, feeding and bathing patients, emptying chamber pots, cleaning hospital wards, and occasionally cooking. Many women were reluctant to take nursing jobs since the death rate in hospitals for the sick and the caregivers was very high.

Seamstresses, Cooks, and Maids: Some of the most common roles for women in the Revolutionary War were cooks, maids, laundresses, water bearers, and seamstresses for the army. This was the first time women held these jobs in the military.

Soldiers: Although women were not officially allowed to join the military at the time, many women served as secret soldiers during the Revolutionary War. They disguised themselves as men by cutting their hair and dressing like the men. Many of them joined in order to earn money for their families or for the rare opportunity to fight for America’s independence.

Spies: It is not known how many women served as spies during the American Revolution. Most of these female spies worked as cooks and maids for the British and American military camps where they eavesdropped on conversations about troop movements, military plans, supply shortages, and deliveries.

These women stepped out of the safety and security of their traditional roles in society and risked their lives to serve their country. While some of them were recognized and rewarded for their sacrifices with military pensions and pay, many were not.

Source: The Roles of Women in the Revolutionary War
Copyright 2016 - History of Massachusetts

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