Nursing During The War of Independence.

Nursing July 4th

Women have been serving in a military role in the United States since colonial times. Most women followed their husbands and helped with the common house necessities and child rearing responsibilities, but many took a more impactful and direct role in the Revolutionary War by operating as nurses who cared for the sick and wounded. Some even fought alongside men on the battlefield by disguising themselves as men.

The history of military nursing started from a time when General Washington asked the Continental Congress for funds to employ nurses in a ratio of one nurse to every ten patients during the war. In return nurses were paid $2 a month and provided with room and board.

General Washington wanted to make use of the women who were camping with their soldier husbands or fathers in the battlefield who followed the Army because they were unable to support themselves after the men left home to go to war. Women were preferred over men to be nurses because they tended to be better at caring for the sick and wounded. Furthermore, each woman available also freed one more man to fight on the battlefield.

The emergence of nursing during the Revolutionary War saw some of America’s most famous heroes

Martha Washington is most notably known as the first First Lady of the United States, but what many don’t know was how Mrs. Washington became indispensable as a nurse and comfort to Washington and his men.  One witness to Martha’s activities later wrote: “I never in my life knew a woman so busy from early morning until late at night as was Lady Washington, providing comforts for the sick soldiers.”

Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adams also played a tremendous role in the Revolutionary War as a nurse. In a letter to her husband, the second president of the United States, we learn from Abigail that she made nurses out of the women in her family and community.  Not only did Abigail have nurses to help with sick soldiers, but also played handmaiden in dressing wounds and changing bandages.

Lucy Flucker Knox, the wife of General Henry Knox, was well known for her generosity and contributions to the war effort, where she regularly cared for sick and wounded soldiers. The most consequential timing of her effort towards the Revolutionary War was her support of Henry and the Continental Army when they encamped at Valley Forge for the bitter winter during the turning point of the war.  She personally provided food, clothing and donated her home for nurses to care for the ill soldiers.