In March 1776, as her husband, John, served in the Continental Congress, Abigail Adams begged him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” Of course, the early legislators did forget women, who didn’t receive the right to vote until the 19th Amendment passed, Aug. 26, 1920, a day commemorated as Women’s Equality Day. (Some states and territories, particularly in the west, gave women voting rights earlier.)
That amendment passed in large part due to the service of women during World War I and every other major war. Although not always in an official capacity or in uniform, women have faithfully served the United States Army since 1775. History has largely forgotten them, but here are 19 examples of their service, from the birth of the nation, through the passing of the 19th Amendment.
1. Women routinely followed their men to the battlefield. Sometimes wives even took up arms. When Fort Washington on Manhattan Island came under attack in 1776, for example, Margaret Corbin stood at a cannon beside her husband, handling ammunition. When he was killed, she took his place until she was herself critically wounded, permanently losing the use of her left arm. She then joined an invalid regiment at West Point, New York, cooking and laundering for other wounded Soldiers. In 1779, Congress authorized a pension for her of half a Soldier’s monthly pay, making her the first American woman to receive a pension as a disabled Soldier. Corbin died in 1800. In 1926, she was reburied with full military honors at West Point.
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Image courtesy of US Army