Nursing in the Revolutionary War

Women have been serving in the military since the Revolutionary War.. Many women followed their husbands and assisted with laundry, cooking and in some cases, fought alongside the men.

Molly Pitcher (Mary Hays McCauly)

Molly Pitcher (Mary Hays McCauly)

Women also assisted by ‘nursing’ the sick and wounded. Although they were not allowed to be soldiers, many fought for their country Some dressed in men’s clothing and  pretended to be men while others fought dressed in their usual garb.

Medical Care in Colonial America

Colonial America had no medical schools; young men who had money went to England or Europe to study medicine;  it was common practice for young men who wanted to study medicine to apprentice to a doctor for a period of time.  Lacking any formal educational institutions or  need for a license to practice medicine, anyone could practice medicine and many did.

Medical care provided by physicians and surgeons to the wounded emphasized purging, blistering and bleeding. Battle wounds were often infected and many resulted in amputations or death,  At that time it was common practice to refer to women (and some men) as nurses even though they did not have formal training. ; many were experienced in care of their families and neighbors. Having  these 'nurse's' keeping the sick and wounded clean, well fed and comfortable was a vital factor  in recovery.


In the summer of 1775, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates of the Continental Army reported to Commander-in-Chief George Washington that, “the sick suffered much for want of good female Nurses.” Gen. Washington asked for help from Congress, which approved one nurse for every ten patients in Continental hospitals.  According to Roberts,  ‘The history of military nursing goes back to the war for independence  when General Washington asked for funds to employ nurses in a ratio of one nurse to every ten patients. Feminine members of the families of soldiers were employed to care for the sick, to prepare their food, and to perform housekeeping duties. These, the first women employed by the military, received $2 a month with room and board.’

Role of Martha Washington,the first  First Lady

Martha Washington comforting a wounded veteran

Martha Washington comforting a wounded veteran

Martha Washington the First Lady] made the rounds of the sick tents, doing what she could to keep the men alive with rudimentary medicinal foods and broths, and spending her time organizing clothing drives among village women.[

 .”The kind of nursing care which kept sick men clean, well fed, and comfortable in clean beds should not be undervalued, A Congressional Committee reported in November of 1776 upon the inspection of the hospital at Fort George, that the 400 sick and wounded men there ‘suffered much for the Want of good female Nurses and comfortable bedding.

Abigail Corbin Peck, Revolutionary War Patriot

Born in Connecticut in 1747, Abigail Corbin married Phineas Peck in 1776. With her husband away at war, her home was destroyed by the British. Putting aside her personal tragedy, Abigail nursed the wounded in the immediate area. For this compassionate service, the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution recognized her as a Revolutionary War Patriot Nurse.