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Martha Washington, Mary Ludwig Hayes, and the Women of Valley Forge

There were many factors that led to the Continental Army’s decision to establish their winter camp near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in 1777. The surrounding hills helped to hide the supplies and unit movements of the Continental Army. Thomas Mifflin, who was serving as Quartermaster, used the outbuildings at the encampment at Valley Forge, because of its terrain. The Valley Forge community also consisted of an ironworks that was built and maintained by John Potts and his family.


Winter at Valley Forge

The decision to use Valley Forge for winter quarters was reached after much discussion by George Washington and his officers. It was a long and arduous journey for the ill-equipped troops marching to Valley Forge. The winter of 1777-1778 was dreadfully cold and the soldiers lacked uniforms, equipment, and other necessary supplies. Housing was built after their arrival and enemy units were only a day’s march away. 

The numbers of troops and non-combatants at Valley Forge was significant.  More than 12,000 people encamped there and the Valley Forge encampment served as a small city. The non-combatants included wives of officers, laundresses, nurses, cooks, and others who were helping to supply and care for the soldiers. Martha Washington, Mary Ludwig Hays (aka Molly Hays), and other women provided essential support services under grueling conditions.

The women survived the winter. Mary Ludwig Hays, whose husband William Hays served with the Proctor's 4th Pennsylvania Artillery, would later attend to the needs of the artillery unit during the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778. Mary Hays is one of the women who would later become known as “Molly Pitcher.”


The Legacy of Molly Pitcher

The United States Field Artillery Association honors the legacy of Molly Pitcher with two awards given to spouses and volunteers who support the field artillery community: the Esteemed Artillery Order of Molly Pitcher and the Artillery Order of Molly Pitcher.



Print Books to Read About Women in the American Revolution

E-Books to Read About Women in the American Revolution


For Adults


The British Are Coming 

by Rick Atkinson



For Kids


The Winter of the Red Snow 

by Kristiana Gregory




Want to Learn More about Women in Early American History?

Visit our latest exhibit The War of 1812: Countering Peril on the High Seas and at Home to explore how women contributed to the war effort in various ways. 




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