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October 13


Compiled and Written by Irene Stuber
who is solely responsible for its content.

The Legends of Molly Pitcher

Women Were On The Battlefields

Minerva Thoughts on Molly P Legend

Women Fought in All U.S. Wars; Wore Men's Clothing


QUOTES by Christabel Pankhurst, Cyra McFadden, and Jane Addams.

Posted 12-23-1999

The Legends of Molly Pitcher

Mary McCauley (McCulla - McKolly), born Oct. 13, 1754, is one of the choices to be the "real" Molly Pitcher. Other candidates are Molly Corbin, Anna Maria Lane, Elizabeth Canning . . . with many others contributing to the legends.

There was no single Molly Pitcher . . . she is nothing more than a compilation of legends and popular histories that purport to describe the actions of a brave Molly Pitcher who defied convention (and hostile fire) to fire her husband's cannon.

Even some of authoritative biographical dictionaries have printed muddled versions of who Molly Pitcher was, some saying she was McCauley and others saying Molly Corbin..

The term "Molly Pitcher" was probably what was used by soldiers in battle calling for the "water boy" (who was generally a woman) as men today say, "hey girl," (or "hey nurse" or "hey, waitress,") " or even "medic!"

According to some legends, Mary Hay McCauley was a water carrier at the Battle of Monmouth June 28, 1778 where she loaded and fired a cannon after her husband was killed (some say collapsed from the heat).

In an embellishment of the legend, a cannonball supposedly passed between her legs tearing her skirt (although the water carriers always tied their skirts up so they could move around. With skirts at the normal length, they'd trip or be much hampered in their movements.)

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Women Were On The Battlefields

The carefully constructed Molly legend, although glorifying one single act and thus is a favorite in the hero-minded, hides the most important PERVASIVE fact, a critical fact that HIStorians somehow ignore: i.e, that McCauley or water-carrying-women were already on the battlefield facing the same dangers as the men-soldiers.

These women carried water, food, and military supplies to the soldiers on the battlefield - and tended the wounded there - all under the same cannon and musket fire that killed and wounded the soldiers. It was common for women to be on all battlefields and travel with the armies in all countries - from time immemorial - although HIStorians and artists never seem to catch a glimpse of them. (One exception is noted below and it was written by a woman.)

Only men seemed to die heroically. There is never a mention of any of the "Molly Pitchers," those women carrying water, food, even ammunition being wounded or killed by all that musket or ball fire that somehow knew not to strike a feminine form! Talk about "smart bombs!" (There is one version of the legend that says after she fired and fired and fired the cannon, she was wounded in the breast (where else???) by grapeshot.

Whole battalions of women traveled with armies. Called "camp followers" in modern texts that appear to denigrate them, they were essential to the army that traveled on its feet.

Mostly they were wives or female relatives of soldiers like McCauley, or women who for various reasons needed to be self-supporting in a man's world that didn't allow them many alternatives - especially if the wage earner of the family went to war. The absent male of the family going to war often left the women and children behind destitute with no means to earn a living. (There were no military dependants' stipends in those days.)

Some of the camp followers could have been prostitutes but they were in-large, honest, hardworking cooks, launderers, nurses, etc., even beasts of burden (see the description below). No army of men of the times could have operated without them.

The women traveling with armies did the service analogous to today's males performing non-combatant jobs in the modern armies of WWI and II (such as cooking, laundry, secretarial, drivers). The women are not recognized but when those same jobs are/were held by men, those men receive service medals and overseas pay and official HIStorical recognition.

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description of image
An artist's conception of Molly at the cannon.

Minerva Thoughts on Molly P Legend

WOA was the beneficiary of several discussions on the Minerva Military Women's email list and particularly Dr. Linda Grant De Pauw, founder and president of The MINERVA Center, Inc., a non-profit educational foundation devoted to promoting the study of women and the military and women in war. Materials of permanent value are stored at http://h-net.msu.edu/~minerva

Holly Mayer wrote (used with permission):

      "I have been very intrigued by all the messages concerning camp followers in general and Molly Pitcher in particular. Let me add my two cents worth . . .
      "Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley was a real person, Molly Pitcher is essentially a mythological being built upon the reality of the person of Mary and her actions. Molly Pitcher is more than Mary McCauley -- she stands in to represent the thousands of women followers who served with the Continental Army and survived the war. Given that, we can still call Mary McCauley Molly Pitcher.
      "I think much of the controversy arises out of the fact that McCauley's story and that of her "sisters" remained in the realm of oral culture for so long -- it took a while for their adventures and contributions to be written down.
      "Furthermore, note that there were conflicting male reactions to these tales--just as there were to these women and their actions during the war itself. An example can be found in Herman Mann's "The Female Review: Life of Deborah Sampson" as he extolled her patriotic contributions but said that he hoped others would not follow her example. (Ed. note: Sampson donned men's clothing and fought as a regular soldier.) I believe that the tension engendered by desires to praise vs those to condemn had an affect on whether stories were told and how they were told.
      "Another woman's story worth knowing is that of Anna Maria Lane who followed her husband to war and then fought in it. Sandra G. Treadway wrote an article about Lane in - Virginia Cavalcade (Winter 1988).
      "Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley was a real person, Molly Pitcher is essentially a mythological being built upon the reality of the person of Mary and her actions."

Professor De Pauw added the following:

      "I agree that Mary McCulla (or whatever spelling you choose) was a real person, but I do not believe the myth was inspired by her.
      "A woman named Mary, widow of William Hays, who came to live in Carlisle in 1783 -- well after the battle of Monmouth. Her second husband had the variously-spelled name beginning with the letter M. In January 1822,
      Mary applied for a pension from the state of Pennsylvania as `Molly McKolly [sic], widow of a soldier of the Revolutionary War.' The bill wound its way through three readings in the Pennsylvania Senate and passed without amendment, then went for two readings in the Pennsylvania House before being amended to read `for services rendered' in place of `widow of a soldier' before passing. There are no surviving papers or proceedings to explain why the change was made.
      However less than a month later, on March 7, 1822, the following editorial was printed in the (New York) National Advocate. It is probably the best evidence we are ever likely to get as to what Mary's activity during the Revolution was believed to be while she was still alive.
      "There is no mention of the Battle of Monmouth or of a cannon although the fact that her story was told to win a pension would surely have encouraged her to put in anything that would improve her account.

      "'Molly Macauly [sic], who received a pension from the State of Pennsylvania for service rendered during the Revolutionary War, was well-known to the general officers as a brave and patriotic woman. She was called Sgt. McCauly [sic] and was wounded at some battle, supposed to be the Brandywine, where her sex was discovered. . . . It was an unusual circumstance to find women in the ranks disguised as men, such was their ardor for independence.'
      "(It is interesting that the editorial continues with the observation),
      `Elizabeth Canning was at a gun at Fort Washington when her husband was killed and she took his place immediately, loaded, primed and fired the cannon with which he was entrusted. She was wounded in the breast by grapeshot. . . '

      "The Continental Congress passed a resolution on July 6, 1779 awarding a pension to 'Margaret Corbin, who was wounded and disabled in the attack on Fort Washington, whilst she heroically filled the post of her husband who was killed by her side serving a piece of artillery.' Corbin, like Mary Hays, was the wife of a man in Proctor's artillery. But the editorial writer clearly believes that Hays, was NOT the woman at the cannon at Fort Washington or anywhere else.
      "If any real woman was the inspiration for the first Molly Pitcher/ Captain Molly stories and prints that appeared after 1840, it would not have been the person disinterred from an unmarked grave in Carlisle and reburied under a stone marked "Molly Pitcher" on July 4, 1876. Indeed, there are enough other stories from other wars involving woman-at-the-cannon vignettes to make an invention out of whole cloth for the American Revolution not improbable.
      "Consider the Canadian women . . . and also Agostina, the Maid of Saragossa, immortalized by Goya and Byron, who was very much a real person who continued to dine out on her reputation for the rest of her life. When Mary McCullla died, her obituary made no mention of the Monmouth story."

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Women Fought in All U.S. Wars; Wore Men's Clothing

At least 400 women are known to have participated in the U.S. Civil War on BOTH sides - and an additional unknown number cross-dressed and fought and died as male soldiers.

"Laundresses, prostitutes, female combatants, and other camp followers, including wives, were often collectively referred to as vivandiers, whether they fit the definition or not...That women accompanied Civil War soldiers into the fields with their regiments is an historically established fact."
            -- Quoted from U.S. Army Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.

      While moving the graves of the Union dead near Gesaca, Georgia, for reinterment to a national cemetery in 1886, the body of Charles Johehouse, Private 6th MO was noticeable by its small feet. Closer examination proved Johehouse to be a woman in full uniform shot through the head. Her real name is unknown.
      Human bones unearthed outside Shiloh Battlefield Park while a home owner was planting a garden turned out to be those of nine union soldiers, eight men and one woman.
      Johnson, Mary Jane, age 16, was discovered to be a woman while at the Belle Island Prison in 1863. She had been with the 11th Kentucky Cavalry for about a year. Nellie, a soldier with the 102nd New York fought at Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Lookout Mountain before being discovered to be a woman.
      Whatever the numbers of women who fought in the Civil war, the following quote indicates that the problem of women who dressed, fought and died as men was too common to ignore:

"In the early years of the war, regulations were lax due to the desperate need for battlefield replacement. Anyone who was willing and looked like they could fight was handed a gun. Later in the last year of the war, soldiers were required to strip to the waist for examination."
            -- Hearts of Fire ... Soldier Women of the Civil War by Lee Middleton. ISBN #1-882755-00-6. Privately printed.

(WOAH note: The number of women were formally recognized as U.S. soldiers in past wars increases almost daily as women historians mine the military archives (and old newspapers) that often dutifully recorded such aberrant behavior. One wonders what the motives of the historians was when they completely ignored such information. Somehow one would have to stretch one's imagination to award them their cherished titles of "impartial" recorders and interpreters of the past. From discussions on Minerva's email list it appears that some men resent the fact of women being something other than helpless airheads (or see women's military service as an afront to their masculinity) that they will not admit the obvious regarding women's service IN the military.)

      "As many of 20,000 women marched with the British and American armies. These women acted as paid and unpaid cooks, nurses, doctors, laundresses, guides, seamstresses, and porters. It appears that more women served the British than with the American army because, of course, the Americans could rely on local help....
      "A matron described the appearance of the British force as it entered Cambridge, Massachusetts: 'I never had the least idea that the Creation produced such a sordid set of creatures in human figure -- poor, dirty, emaciated men, great numbers of women who seemed to be the beasts of burden, having a bushel baskets on their backs, by which they were bent double, the contents seemed to be pots and kettles, various sorts of furniture, children peeking through the gridirons and other utensils, some very young infants who were born on the road, the women bare feet, clothed in dirty rags."
            -- Above quote from A History of Women in Americaby Carol Hymowitz, Carol and Michaele Weissman. New York: Bantam Books, 1978. Printed in cooperation with the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.

(Ed. note: Ah, the officers and gentlemen who defended women's honor in the gallant days of powdered wigs ... not quite the picture HIStorians like to paint ... How they love to ignore the fact that only a very few women - those with money - were honored while the other 98% were without any rights and treated without regard to their human attributes.)

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LangtryB. 10-13-1853, Lillie Langtry - English actor of legendary talent and charm, and theater manager. Oscar Wilde wrote Lady Windemere's Fan (1892) for her.

Della Fox B. 10-13-1870, Della May Fox - U.S. singer/actor. DMF was considered to have been the highest paid variety performer of her time. She toured the U.S. with her own company. She had bouts of ill health because of drugs and alcohol. DMF all but retired from the stage when she married in 1900. B. 10-13-1871, Eleanor Clarke Slagle - U.S. social-welfare worker. ECS was one of the founders of the American Occupational Therapy Association (1917). She started her therapy career at Jane Addams Hull House in Chicago (1917) and becoming directed of the OT program for all of Illinois (1918), and then for New York in 1922. Another of the remarkable network of women gathered by Jane Addams that changed the social conscience of the world.

Louise Closser Hale B. 10-13-1872, Louise Closser Hale - U.S. actor. Seen extensively on stage and screen, LCH was a highly respected and beloved character actor. She also wrote successful novels and travel books. Her best known novel was Soul and Her Body (1912) that was made into a play.

B. 10-13-1877, Josephine Goldmark - U.S. researcher. JG was a meticulous social researcher who provided the voluminous materials gathered from books and direct research to support legislation and reform in the fields of child labor, working hours, nurse training, radium poisoning, etc. Among those who benefited from her work were Frances Perkins and Florence Kelley as well as the famous legal briefs of her brother-in-law Louis D. Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter - both men who gained such fame from their legal acumen that they were advanced to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is amazing that any one woman could have done so much solid, effective research - without a computer!

B. 10-13-1891, Irene Rich - U.S. actor. Abandoned her career as a successful real estate agent to become a popular star of the silent screen and Broadway. She appeared in scores of melodramas in the 1920-30 and was successful on radio.

B. 10-13-1901, Edith Spurloch Sampson - U.S. attorney. Was the first black woman to be elected to Illinois bench. She served as Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court (1962). ESS was alternate U.S. delate to the 5th General Assembly of the United Nations.

10-13-1905: On this day the conspiracy of silence against women's efforts to obtain the vote in England was broken when Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney were arrested for demonstrating for the vote. Previously, the police had merely moved the women away and the press ignored the incidents, but this time the women fought back and the newspapers were forced to carry stories of the arrests.
      Christabel stated afterwards that she knew she had to do something to cause a commotion. With a burly policeman pinning her arms and carrying her away as usual, there was nothing else she could think of to do: she spat in his face.
      He was forced to officially arrest her. Consequently the suffrage movement moved onto the front pages of the British newspapers as man writer after man writer expressed horror at the actions of "those" women. Obviously taking part in public affairs did terrible things to women's tender minds - and it would certainly end civilization.
      But the silence was broken and women began to speak up all over England as they realized they were not alone. Twelve years later, in 1917, women over 30 had the vote. Suffrage for all women in England would come in 1928.
      Of course the more flamboyant actions of the Pankhurst forces did not accomplish suffrage on its own. Actually there was a quiet branch of the British women's suffrage movement that dealt directly with members of the government and parliament on a one-to-one basis, and in the overview, they were more effective in actually getting things done.

Event 10-13-1914: Annette Abbott Adams became the first U.S. federal prosecutor who was also a woman when she was sworn in an Attorney General in California.

B. 10-13-1920, Laraine Day - U.S. stage and screen actor.

B. 10-13-1925, Margaret Thatcher - British prime minister. MT served as England's first woman prime minister 1979-1991. She was the first British prime minister to win three consecutive terms and Europe's first woman prime minister. Her mother was a dressmaker. (Vigdis Finnbogadottir was elected president of Iceland 06-30-1980 and would be reelected 1984 and 1988 to become the first democratically elected female head of state in the history of western civilization. Finnbogadottir was elected by the DIRECT vote of the people while Thatcher was elected by her party members in parliament.)

B. 10-13-1936, Elizabeth Furse - U.S. Representative to Congress from Oregon (1993--). She was active in the Oegon Peace Institute and co-operator of a vineyard.

Event 10-13-1939, Evelyn Kilgore receives her certification from the Civil Aeronautics Authority as the first woman flight instructor. She was an instructor at Tri-City Airport in southern California. She had soloed after only eight hours of instruction and was very active in flying. However, she dutifully gave a "oh gosh, oh gee, little 'ole girl me can't compete with men; I'm just playing," interview. Or perhaps the statement was written for her by one of the men who were shamed into joining the CAA under the program that used the ploy "If a woman can fly, certainly you, a man, ought to be able to."

      "Girls make good flyers. They learn slower because they don't understand the mechanical end of flying the way men do. But they are smoother and more careful. Men like to 'kick a ship around.' Sometimes they get a little foolish. Women respect a plane more, feel their way into the business of flying better.
      "Women don't get as far as men do because they fritter around. They have to spend money and time on clothes and cosmetics and things like that. They just about get started and they fall in love too . . . Men are different. When they start flying they stick to it. If they have a girl, they bring the girl to the field. Pretty soon she's flying too sometimes."
            -- Kilgore quote from United States Women in Aviation (1940-1985) by Deborah G. Douglas.

B. 10-13-1952, Elaine Garzarelli - U.S.financial analyst. Using her own set of economist indicators, EG was almost the only one to predict the stockmarket crash of 10-19-1987, a prediction she announced on national TV before the fact.
      Reported to earn an income of $1.5 million (unusual then) she was the first to be fired from her job in 1994 as a "cost cutting measure." She formed her own company Garzarellie Capital, Inc. Although her father was in banking, it was her mother who urged her to go into "a man's business."

B. 10-13-1958, Maria Cantwell - U.S. Representative to Congress from Washington state (1993-95). A public relations consultant, she was a member of the Washington legislature.

B. 10-13-1959, (Olive) Marie Osmund - U.S. singer.

B. 10-13-1969 Nancy Kerrigan - U.S. figure skater. NK was the victim of a bungled physical attack by the husband and friend of one of her rivals. The attack mildly injured her leg and ruined the career of her rival. NK later won the silver medal at the Olympics and ridiculed the young Russian girl who edged her out for the gold. NK turned pro and is featured at Disney shows.

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      "Be ready when the hour comes, to show that women are human and have the pride and dignity of human beings. Through such resistance our cause will triumph.
      "But even if it does not, we fight not only for success, but in order that some inward feeling may have satisfaction. We fight that our pride, our self-respect, our dignity may not be sacrificed in the future as they have been in the past."

      "One of my correspondents has me convinced that the human race would be saved if the world became one huge nudist colony. I keep thinking how much harder it would be to carry concealed weapons."

      "The new demand of women for political enfranchisement comes at a time when unsatisfactory and degraded social conditions are held responsible for so much wretchedness and when the fate of all the unfortunate, the suffering and the criminal is daily forced upon woman s attention in painful and intimate ways."

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