-SAYS WHO? No One wrote about it. Exactly. But, in spite of this, women did have a role in the war. In reading Paine last week, we had this discussion about excluded groups and someone said women were one of them during the war. They were exlcuded in the political sense, women weren’t politically useful. But they were useful in the camps. Many women were a burden to Washington and other generals because they lived in the camps with their husbands, needed shelter and food. Because rations were barely enough for the soldiers, the camps were stretched pretty thin in having to cover all of the women and children as well.
August 4, 1777 Washington writes,“the multitude of women in particular, especially those who are pregnant, or have children, are a clog upon every movement. The Commander in Chief earnestly recommends it to the officers to use every reasonable method in their power to get rid of all such as are not absolutely necessary.” – Washington wasn’t the only one.
1776 General Andrew Lewis wrote, “Officers of Companies are to return a list of the names and number of women they have, and whether single or married, in order to have them examined.”
If these women were single, unable to perform necessary tasks, misbehaved or ill, they were literally sent away from the camps. [TALK ABOUT EXCLUSION] But the women who stayed played essential roles of the camp life- they were given anywhere from 1/4 to a full ration, and even money for the duties they performed. First and foremost, women were needed because if they weren’t allowed in the camps, their husbands (the soldiers) would either ask for furlough, or actually leave the army to follow their wives and children. The generals realized this and had to make accomidations because they couldn’t afford to lose any men. The wives in the camp did all of the laundry, and charged the soldiers per item. They did the cooking and cleaning- and their payments were decided by the General of the camp.
Another way for women to earn rations and pay was by nursing. The army preferred women nurses, because get this- nursing and taking care of the ill was a task that was a female responsibility. But the more practical and SLIGHTLY less misogynistic reasoning behind women nurses was that this freed more men to fight in the line. The need for nurses actually became so great that they began hiring women from british towns, and didn’t really look into their backgrounds ( Some of these women were later found guilty of espionage- hahahaha I think this is funny). An article on history.org states,
“Nurses’ duties were generally related to keeping the hospital and its patients clean. The “Rules and Directions for the better regulation of the military Hospital of the United States” described nurses’ duties. They must stay clean and sober, empty chamber pots as soon as possible after use, wash new patients, wash the hands and faces of old patients, comb patients’ hair daily, change linen, sweep out the hospital, sprinkle the wards with vinegar (as a disinfectant) three to four times a day, and deliver dead patients’ belongings to the ward master. Nurses were forbidden to be absent without the permission of their supervising physicians, surgeons, or matrons.”
There are however a few cases of women participating as soldiers in the army. Some dressed as male soldiers, some performed as women next to their husbands. These roles were dangerous and though they pushed against traditional gender roles, every woman worked just as hard as the men of the war. We nowadays for the most part give both women and men the credit they deserve for their participation in the Revolutionary War. Although the roles display the Chauvinistic and misogynistic ideals of the time (in practice and writing), it is important to address that though Women may have been an excluded group in Paine’s and other thinkers writings, the War literally could not have been won without them.