11 Women You Wouldn’t Know Were Part Of The Founding Of The U.S.

by Lindsay E. Mack

Sure, almost every American knows the story of the country's founding. It was all about a fight with the Red Coats and large signatures on the Declaration of Independence. The stories of the all the people who helped secure America's independence, however, are not all well known. The ambitious, heroic, and daring women who were part of the founding of America should have their stories told.

Female spies, spouses, soldiers, fundraisers, political thinkers, artists, and writers alike all pitched in to the effort of independence. Some dressed as men and took on the battlefield. Others wrote political tracts that still have significance today. Several completed espionage work for George Washington with the legendary Culper Ring. Whether raising significant funds for the war effort or transmitting spy secrets through a clothesline, these women supported American independence with zeal and fervor.

This list is just a sample of the many amazing women who contributed to this crucial stage of American history. Use it as a jumping-off point to learn more about the women who helped build America. (Seriously: I'm going to get a book about Deborah Samson right now. She was a stone-cold bad*ss.) Take some time to learn more about these incredible, brave, and brilliant American women.


Agent 355

The exact identity of this person is lost to history, but according to the National Women's History Museum (NWHM), Agent 355 was a female spy for the Culper Ring who supplied crucial information to George Washington. Was she part of a socially elite family, able to learn important secrets on the sly? Whatever her identity, Agent 355 helped expose Benedict Arnold, as well as secure the arrest of a British spy, as further noted by the NWHM.


Margaret Cochran Corbin

Women were not officially allowed to participate in combat, but some of them joined the fray anyway. While acting as a camp follower for her husband, Corbin put on men's clothes and helped her husband in the Battle of Fort Washington, according to the National Women's History Museum (NWHM). Following his demise, she took over firing the cannon at the British. Wounded in battle and taken as a prisoner of War, Corbin was released to the Americans, where she was awarded about half of a male soldier's pension, as further noted by the NWHM. Her body was eventually laid to rest at West Point, and given full military honors.


Lydia Barrington Darragh

Some war heroes were ordinary people who happened into unusual situations. Such was the case with Lydia Barrington Darragh, a Philadelphia nurse and midwife who overheard British generals discussing plans to attack Washington two days later, according to Encyclopædia Britannica. (The generals were having a secret meeting in one of her rooms). Feigning a trip for flour, Darragh alerted the people of Whitemarsh of the pending attack. Thanks to her tip, the Continental army was ready to meet the British forces at the time of their invasion, as further explained by the Encyclopædia Britannica. With a bit of eavesdropping at a keyhole, Darragh helped the Americans avoid a sneak attack from the British.


Deborah Read Franklin

The wife of Benjamin Franklin, Deborah Read Franklin's story is largely forgotten by history. But it's crucial to note that Deborah Franklin's ability to manage the family business in Benjamin Franklin's absence was an important part of the United States' founding, as noted by Able to trust that his wife had everything under control at home, Benjamin Franklin had the freedom to devote his life to the public, political task of helping America reach independence.


Sybil Ludington

The daughter of a militia colonel in New York, Sybil Ludington is sometimes known as the female Paul Revere. On the night of April 26, 1777, Ludington rode 40 miles at night to alert her father's militiamen about a pending attack on Danbury, Connecticut's military stores, according to American National Biography Online. Her message was received, and the men gathered at her father's house before daybreak, as requested. The most amazing part? Ludington was only 16 years old the night of her famed ride.


Esther DeBerdt Reed

Although she was born in England, Esther DeBerdt Reed soon became an active supporter of American independence after living in Philadelphia for two years. According to The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, Reed wrote "Sentiments of an American Woman,” a tract calling her fellow women to action. In response, a group called the Ladies Association of Philadelphia was formed, and these women were fundraising masterminds. After collecting over $300,000, the group gave these funds to Washington, who used the money to purchase badly needed clothing for the Continental Army, as further noted by the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia. Reed's efforts paid off royally.


Deborah Samson

This is the story of a woman who was basically the Mulan of the American Revolution. After escaping a life of indentured servitude, Deborah Samson dressed in men's clothes and joined the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, according to the National Women's History Museum (NWHM). She passed as Robert Shurtleff for more than two years, scouting territory, leading a raid, digging trenches, and even getting shot (and removing the pistol ball herself). Her ruse was only discovered once losing consciousness during an illness. Even so, Samson received an honorable discharge and earned a military pension, as further noted by the NWHM.


Anna "Nancy" Strong

Anna "Nancy" Strong subverted norms long before it was cool. As a part of the Culper Spy Ring, Strong helped pass information between agents in support of the American Revolution, as noted on the National Security Agency's Women in American Cryptology section. As further explained by the NSA, Strong would hang her petticoat and a handkerchief on the clothesline to let others know when information could be safely passed to another agent. Any passerby would simply see a woman doing her laundry, not a spy sending secret codes.


Mercy Otis Warren

Although few women expressed political opinions at this time, some were not afraid to make their voices known. One such woman was Mercy Otis Warren, a poet, playwright, and propagandist who supported the American Revolution, according to the National Women's History Museum. Her works, including the History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, are still read today. It's an account of the revolution from someone who witnessed it firsthand.


Martha Custis Washington

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

America's original First Lady, Martha Washington accomplished many feats for the country in her own right. Because General George Washington so valued his wife's company, she was asked to stay at his winter encampments — and she complied. According to the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, Martha Washington made the encampment trip every year, joining him at places such as Valley Forge and Cambridge. Although the fighting stalled during the colder months, Martha Washington still had to cope with other potential dangers, such as smallpox, for which she received an inoculation. (Given the state of late 1700s medicine, the inoculation was probably an ordeal in its own right.) For her part, though, she was willing to cope with dangerous, arduous travels in support of her husband, as well as the fledgling America.


Patience Lovell Wright

Decades before Madame Tussaud made her name, Long-Island born artist Patience Wright gained admiration for her lifelike wax sculptures in late 1700s America. After opening waxworks establishments in New York City and Philadelphia, Wright gained access to London's elites, thanks to an introduction from Jane Mecom, Benjamin Franklin's sister, according to the website for Smithsonian Magazine. But even as she sculpted the likenesses of lords and ladies in London, Wright's heart remained in the colonies. She passed letters detailing potential leads about the movements of Parliament in relation to the revolution back to America, as further explained by Smithsonian Magazine. But to escape suspicion, Wright hid these correspondences in wax sculptures. An artist and spy, Wright used her own materials to support the revolutionary cause.