Washerwomen and Wives: The experiences of the women who followed American military camps in the Revolutionary War.
The year is 1777...
The winter is getting colder, the army is bivouacked for miles across the Pennsylvania countryside. The small farming community of Valley Forge has become the center of the Washington's workings in the Revolutionary War within the course of a few weeks. This project requires a lot of imagination, so think of this: Valley Forge. What do you see? Do you see soldiers drilling, snow falling, feet freezing? Maybe some soup is boiling over a fire as men chat raucously about their last engagement. Maybe the mourn the loss of a brother of friend. But who are those characters, lingering in the background of our imaging, never talked about but ever essential. Call them forward and you'll see countless women and children standing among the soldiers. Their touch lingers everywhere in camp, from the cleaned wool that drapes their husbands' shoulders, to the bubbles of the soup that rumble over the fire. While women worked to maintain the essentials of life: food, cloth, and shelter, men prepared for the war that would be the harbinger of many deaths.
Between 3,000 and 7,000 women followed the American army.
That's about one woman to every thirty-five men in camp. When women were allowed into camp, IF women were allowed into camp, they were forced to follow very stringent rules of living. Women were adopted into the army which meant they had to follow by the army rules. This meant marching miles and miles on end to keep up with troops movement, very small rations, and being subject to the same consequences should a legal infraction be made, intentional or not. Just as much as soldiers, women faced death as they followed the army.
Who will you be?
As you explore this virtual exhibit, you will be able to choose which story to follow. Will you be the wife of one of the highest ranking generals in the army? Are you Martha Washington herself? Or are you a farm-wife whose husband has joined the war, and you follow camp to be near him and help the cause? Or perhaps you have found yourself poor, your home destroyed, and with no other options than to see what protection the army camps have to offer this cold Winter. Whatever your journey may be, I wish you luck.
Click one of the panels below to begin your journey...