Women’s History Month: March
Aviators, Educators, Inventors, Journalists, Nurses, Physicians, Scientists, and Soldiers
“History is herstory, too.” ~Anonymous
Molly Pitcher/Mary Ludwig Hayes McCauley (1744-1832) was born to a German family in Pennsylvania. Her parents, Gretchen and John George Ludwig, owned a dairy farm. It is assumed, though not necessarily so, that she was unschooled. She married William Hayes, a barber, who served as an artilleryman at the Battle of Monmouth (1778), New Jersey. During the winter of 1777, Mary (“Molly”) joined him at Valley Forge as one of the soldiers’ wives who helped prepare food, do laundry, and care for the sick and dying. During spring training (1778), she was a “water girl,” providing water to soldiers drilling in the hot sun. Their usual cry was the terse “Molly! Pitcher!” That summer (1778) she worked at Monmouth, carrying water from a nearby spring. Two places are memorialized in New Jersey as the “Molly Pitcher Spring.” The temp was over 100°. When her husband, William, collapsed from heat exhaustion and was carried off the field, Mary took his place at the cannon. George Washington, taking note of her help, made her a noncommissioned officer. Afterward she was known as “Sergeant Molly.”
After the war, William and Mary returned to their home in Carlisle, where Mary gave birth to a son, John. After William died (1786), Mary married (1793) his friend, John McCauley, a stonecutter, who turned out to be a poor husband; he abandoned her (1807). She subsequently worked as a day laborer, cleaning windows, painting houses, and babysitting. A decade before she died (1822), in appreciation of her war service, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania gave her a $40-per-annum war pension. The Monmouth Battlefield where she served is a National Historic Landmark. In her honor, the US Army Artillery established an honorary society for wives called the Order of Molly Pitcher; she is featured on a US commemorative stamp (1928) and on a US commemorative postcard (1978); a statue of her is located in the Old Cemetery, Carlisle, Pennsylvania; a World War II Liberty ship the SS Molly Pitcher was named in her honor; and part of US 11 in Pennsylvania is dubbed the Molly Pitcher Highway.
“I would rather trust a woman’s instinct than a man’s reason.” ~Stanley Baldwin
Copyright © 2012 Alexandra Lee