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Famous & Important Women in the Revolutionary War

Instructor: Erica Cummings

Erica teaches college Humanities, Literature, and Writing classes and has a Master's degree in Humanities.

Women were not officially allowed into the military until the 1900s, but even in the American Revolutionary War in the 1770s and 1780s, women still had a big impact on the actual war effort. Learn more about some of these famous and important women!

Famous Women in the Revolutionary War

In the American Revolutionary War, men and women--both on and off the battlefield--played key roles in winning America's independence. We hear less about the famous and important women of this time period, but their contributions to the revolution were heroic and noteworthy. When it comes to the actual war effort, some valiant women risked life and limb as spies, messengers, and even soldiers. Let's meet some of these incredible women!

Picture of a woman on the battlefield
Picture of a woman on the battlefield

Women as Spies and Messengers

During the American Revolution, communication between military officers needed to be secretive and quick. Some women participated in a secret spy ring that discovered information about troop movements and attack plans. One woman even used the laundry on her clothesline (of all things!) to send signals about military operations. In addition, with no phones or computers, letters had to be hand delivered, with the hopes that the messenger would not be captured by the other side. Though most army couriers were male, there were a few brave women that also performed this duty.

Sybil Ludington was one such messenger who became known as the 'female Paul Revere.' Late one night in April, 1777, Sybil's father (who was in charge of the local militia) got word that British troops were pillaging a nearby town. At just 16 years old, Sybil rode through the night to rouse the militia and warn the people that the British were coming.

Stamp depicting Sybil Ludington warning that the British were coming
Stamp depicting Sybil Ludington warning that the British were coming

In similar fashion, Emily Geiger, just a teenager herself, rode 100 miles through British occupied territory to deliver a letter from one American general to another. Emily was actually captured by the British. In order to avoid punishment, she memorized the letter, ripped it to shreds, and ate it! With no evidence to hold Emily as a spy, the British let her go. She reached her intended destination and delivered the message. The contents of the message helped to defeat the British forces.

The Legend of Molly Pitcher

In addition to acting as spies and messengers, some women found themselves in the midst of battle. Molly Pitcher is the name given to multiple women who carried water to soldiers and who even fought on the battlefield itself. Though it is unclear whether there was ever one specific woman named Molly Pitcher, we know for sure that the legend of Molly Pitcher is based on the experiences of several real women.

Margaret Corbin is a possible source for the Molly Pitcher legend. Margaret was in her mid-twenties when she accompanied her husband into an actual battle in 1776. Her husband died right next to her while he was operating a cannon. But the brave Margaret took over her husband's cannon and began firing in his stead. She was severely injured, but she survived until 1800. Because of her heroism, she was awarded a military pension--the first woman to ever receive this pension--and she was even buried with full military honors.

Another likely source for the Molly Pitcher legend is Mary Ludwig Hays. Mary accompanied her husband throughout his tenure in the army. She would carry water for the soldiers and the cannons (which could become overheated) during battles. During a particularly scorching day in 1778, Mary's husband fell beside his cannon, and Mary took his place, bravely facing the enemy.

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