The origins of service
During the Revolutionary War, women served the U.S. Army in traditional roles as nurses, seamstresses and cooks for troops in camp. Some courageous women served in combat either alongside their husbands or disguised as men, while others operated as spies for the cause. Though not in uniform, women shared Soldiers’ hardships including inadequate housing and little compensation.
Shortly after establishment of the Continental Army, June 14, 1775, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates reported to Commander-in-Chief George Washington that “the sick suffered much for want of good female Nurses.” Gen. Washington then asked Congress for “a matron to supervise the nurses, bedding, etc.,” and for nurses “to attend the sick and obey the matron’s orders.” A plan was submitted to the Second Continental Congress that provided one nurse for every ten patients and provided “that a matron be allotted to every hundred sick or wounded.”
In the 18th and 19th centuries, garrisons depended on women to make Soldiers’ lives tolerable. Some found employment with officers’ Families or as mess cooks. Women employed as laundresses, cooks, or nurses were subject to the Army’s rules of conduct. Though not in uniform, these women shared Soldiers’ hardships including inadequate housing and little compensation.
Women also served as spies during the Revolutionary War. The war was fought on farms and in the backyards of American families across the width and breadth of the colonies and along the frontier. Women took an active role in alerting American troops to enemy movement, carried messages, and even transported contraband.