Meet the Founding Mothers and Backbone of America

Camp followers. like these of the British Army, were common to all armies of the 18th century. Wikimedia

2. The camp women of the American Revolution helped keep the army intact

Camp women, some wives of enlisted men and some not, played a significant role in preserving the Continental Army. It was they who made the bandages for binding wounds, maintained the clothing of the men, and served as laundresses and cooks. Some took to the field of battle, disguised as men, including one Deborah Sampson, who enlisted as Robert Shurtleff in 1782. Others went to the battlefront to carry water to the men, and to succor the wounded. The legendary Molly Pitcher is likely a composite of several such women.

Wives joined their officer husbands in the encampments, and they moved about the camps under the caring guidance of Martha Washington and the wives of other senior officers. During the campaigning season most remained at home, traveling to the winter encampments after the army settled in. They often endured harsh weather on their journey, arduous enough due to poor roads, comfortless inns, and long distances. Their presence in the winter camps did much to boost the morale of the army during its most trying times. The contribution of women to the victory won by Washington’s army is measured not in a great military victory, but in thousands of small comforts they rendered for the troops during the long war.