Historians have sometimes neglected the role of women in major events, and this is certainly the case with the American Revolution. As has often been the case during wartime, women made many brave sacrifices to support their husbands and the war effort. 

During the American Revolution, which scholars consider to have occurred over a fairly long period (e.g. 1765 and 1791), women made a tremendous impact that has not always been highlighted in history books.

So, read on to learn about some of the unsung women of the American Revolution, including what they did and why they deserve to have their names in the history books.

Deborah Sampson: Disguised on the Front Lines of Battle

Deborah Sampson (1760-1827) is first up on our list, and for good reason. She is a true hero of the American Revolution as she disguised herself as a man in order to fight as part of the Patriot forces.

Even though women were strictly forbidden to fight, Deborah decided she would find a way. Using the pseudonym Robert Shurtleff, she successfully joined the fight, eventually reaching the front lines.

Deborah was assigned to scout neutral territory to learn about British forces, and she also helped lead multiple raids and expeditions that enabled the capture of British soldiers.

A painting of a woman in an American revolutionary war era uniform.
Deborah Sampson, Illustration

Sybil Ludington: She Rode Twice as Far as Paul Revere

Next up is Sybil Ludington (1761-1839), another great heroine of the American Revolution. While Paul Revere is well-known in the United States due to his famous horseback ride to warn that the British were coming, we wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t heard Sybil’s name until now.

Well, at just 16 years old, Sybil rode more than twice the distance of Paul Revere (roughly 40 miles) to alert American forces about the approaching British.

It wasn’t until around World War II that Sybil began receiving some recognition as historic road markers popped up in locations she was thought to have visited on her ride. She was even on the U.S. Bicentennial postage stamp in 1975, depicting her on a horse.

An illustration of a woman riding a black horse. She has a distressed loom on her face.
Sybil Ludington on horseback, Illustration

Mary Katharine Goddard: Postmaster and Printer of the Declaration of Independence

Did you know that a woman signed the Declaration of Independence? Her name is Mary Katharine Goddard (1737-1816), and it’s quite a story.

In 1776, the Continental Congress was chased out of New Jersey by British forces. Weeks later, the tide had turned, and they chose to seize this moment to print a second Declaration, this time with their names on it.

At the time, Mary Katharine Goddard was a journalist, the postmaster of Baltimore, and likely the first female employee of the United States government. At the bottom of the document, she printed her name as well: “Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard.”

Mary Katharine was a true force to be reckoned with at a time when many women did not work outside the home. Her dedication

An illustration of a woman at a work table, looking at a piece of paper, a printing press is seen in the background.
Mary Katharine Goddard, Illustration

Phillis Wheatley: A Precocious Poet Who Visited George Washington

Phillis (or Phyllis) Wheatley (1753-1784) was taken from West Africa as a child and shipped to the United States with other refugee slaves who weren’t deemed to be suited for hard labor in the Caribbean or the Southern United States.

Phillis was raised by a well-to-do Boston family that educated her and gave her a literary upbringing. The young Phillis was a precocious poet, publishing poems as just a teenager.

Phillis wrote a poem that praised King George III for repealing the Stamp Act, and as the American Revolution picked up steam, she began supporting the idea of independence. She was even invited by George Washington to visit him at his headquarters in 1776 after she sent him her poem “To His Excellency, George Washington.”

An illustration of a woman sitting at a desk, writing on a piece of paper.
Phillis Wheatley, Illustration

Margaret Corbin: The First Woman to Earn a Military Pension

Margaret Cochran Corbin (1751-1800) is another vital figure in early American history, as she was the first woman to receive a pension from the military. At only five years old she lost her parents to a Native American raid, a tragic event that shows just one aspect of Margaret’s resiliency.

Like Deborah Sampson, Margaret disguised herself as a man so she could contribute to the Revolutionary War efforts. In 1776 she accompanied her husband in the Battle of Fort Washington. When he died, she took over his cannon and began successfully repelling the British. Margaret was wounded and ended up recovering in a Revolutionary hospital.

In 1779, the Continental Congress recognized this hero’s brave service, and Margaret thus became the first female to receive a lifelong military pension (though it was only half that of male combatants).

An illustration of a woman in a revolutionary war era, American patriot red, white and blue dress.
Margaret Corbin, Illustration

Ann Bailey: A Scout and Spy Whose Bravery Knew No Bounds

Ann Bailey (1752-1825) lived an incredible life during the Revolutionary period, and much of this has become legend.

Upon the death of her first husband in 1774, Ann disguised herself as a man and began serving as a scout on the frontier. During the Revolutionary War period, she helped the cause by serving as a messenger, scout, and spy.

In 1778, she and her second husband moved to Clendenin’s Settlement (now Charleston, West Virginia). At Fort Lee, Ann Bailey helped save the day during a Native American siege in 1791. When gunpowder ran low, Ann managed to escape, avoid the Native Americans laying siege, and successfully ride some 100 miles to get gunpowder.

A painting of a woman in a dark outfit, wearing a wide brim hat.
Anne Bailey, Illustration

Mercy Otis Warren: A Skilled Author of Pro-Revolution Works

Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814) was a gifted political writer during the Revolutionary period, at a time when women were largely dissuaded from commenting on politics.

A serious patriot, Mercy wrote political dramas that criticized British colonial policies. Before the Declaration of Independence, Warren was already hard at work undermining British colonial leaders through her satirical plays.

Mercy also started writing the history of the American Revolution as it was ongoing. She published it in 1805 as History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution. After Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley, Mercy was just the third woman to publish a book of poems.

Mercy lived a long life that was dedicated to the Revolutionary cause and showed that women could be astute authors and historians at a time when men dominated these domains.

A painting of a woman in a 18th century, blue dress with white lace trimmings.
Mrs. James Warren (Mercy Otis), Wikimedia Commons

Patience Lovell Wright: A Revolutionary Spy and America’s First Professional Sculptor

Patience Lovell Wright (1725-1786) is sometimes known as America’s first professional sculptor. Patience was such a gifted wax sculptor that people would visit her work in Philadelphia and New York.

While living in England, Patience supported the Revolution by writing to John Dickinson, a member of the Continental Congress. She collected valuable information about British military strategy and shared it with the Continental Army.

How did Patience disseminate the information? By inserting it into the wax figurines she sent to the colonies! Due to her artistic talent and fervent patriotism, Patience found a truly unique and clever way to support the Revolutionary War efforts.

A painting of a woman in a white dress, sitting down and looking up with a pondering expression on her face.
Patience Lovell Wright by Robert Edge Pine, 1782, Wikimedia Commons

Penelope Barker: Organizer of the Edenton Tea Party to Protest Colonial Policies

Penelope Barker (1728-1796) helped organize the first women’s political demonstration in American history. Called the Edenton Tea Party, Penelope gathered more than fifty women in North Carolina to sign a decree boycotting tea from Britain.

Penelope’s rally was a response to the 1773 Tea Act passed in the British Parliament, which allowed for Britain to have a monopoly in the colonies and levy a tax on tea sold there.

While many people have heard of the Boston Tea Party and not the Edenton Tea Party, Penelope belongs in the history books as the organizer of the very first political demonstration of women in America.

A painting in an elaborate gold frame of a smiling woman in an 18th century red dress.
Penelope Barker, Edenton Historical Commission

Wrapping Up

When we think about the American Revolution, names such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson often spring to mind. Although they didn’t have the same rights at the time, there were numerous women who contributed in significant ways to the Revolutionary War efforts.

These women refused to accept the limitations placed on them based on their gender. Motivated by their desire to help America become an independent nation, they went above and beyond to help in any way they could, and often in surprising and ingenious ways.