What Deborah Sampson Accomplished By Pretending To Be A Man

According to the USO, in 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, which allowed women to serve as permanent members of all branches of the military (via History). Before this, women had various roles throughout wartime in American history, including as laundresses, sex workers, and more. However, they were not allowed to actually serve in the military until World War II. A need for soldiers ultimately led women to have non-combat positions, serve overseas, and attain military rank. Per the U.S. Army, women were not allowed in combat until 2016, a mere five years ago. Of course, this has done little to dissuade women in the past, Deborah Sampson being one of them.

Born on December 17, 1760, in Plympton, Massachusetts, Sampson had a rough start to life (via the National Women's History Museum). She was one of seven children, and her family struggled to stay afloat. According to George Washington's Mount Vernon, when her father abandoned the family, Sampson was forced into indentured servitude until the age of 18. At 21, perhaps out of patriotism, perhaps for financial reasons (or both), she disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Continental Army (per Smithsonian Magazine).

Deborah Sampson became a hero of the Revolutionary war

When she enlisted, Deborah Sampson became Robert Shurtleff (via the National Women's History Museum). Per George Washington's Mount Vernon, she joined the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment and was quickly chosen to be part of the Light Infantry Troops. These troops traveled with little supplies and took part in perilous missions.

It was during these missions that Sampson was injured various times and refused proper medical attention. When she was shot in the shoulder, she left the bullet lodged in and continued on. According to Smithsonian Magazine, she was also shot in the leg, and she herself took out the bullet in order to keep her true gender a secret. Moreover, Sampson's military career was impressive. She led a raid that ended in the capture of 15 men and dug trenches during the Siege of Yorktown.

Nonetheless, Deborah Sampson's ruse could not last forever. She eventually became extremely ill in Philadelphia and fell unconscious. The doctor attending her discovered her true gender, and she was honorably discharged in 1783. When she returned home, Sampson married and had three children. Notably, she was the only woman to earn a full military pension for her role in the Revolutionary War. In 1802, Sampson began touring around the East Coast to talk about her experiences as a soldier. She died at age 66, and her tombstone reads "The Female Soldier."