Martha Goes To War: Women in Wartime

Martha Goes To War: Women in Wartime
Martha Washington: First Ladies' Lives

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One week


During the winter and spring of 1777-1778, Martha Washington lived with her husband at Valley Forge, and set an example for all officers’ wives by mending soldiers’ clothes, knitting wool socks for them, managing the household of her husband, and in many ways, provided comfort and good cheer to a dismal situation.


Students who participate in this lesson will investigate the role of women in America’s major wars—from camping with their husbands to actual fighting.  Students will also consider what the role of women should be in America’s military in the future.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; PowerPoint or other presentation materials.


1.  We have become somewhat used to the idea of women in the military today, but over the years, women’s roles in military conflicts have been many and varied.  Engage students in a discussion of some of the roles for women with which they are familiar, and tell them that they will be learning about some exemplary women in our history who played important parts in wartime.
2.  Using the websites, "Amazing Women in War and Peace," “American Women’s Roles in Wartime,” below, divide students into seven groups, and assign each group to research the roles of women in the following conflicts:

  • Group 1 – The Revolution
  • Group 2 – The Civil War
  • Group 3 – The Spanish-American War
  • Group 4 – World War I
  • Group 5 – World War II
  • Group 6 – The Vietnam War
  • Group 7 – The Military: 1970-1990s

3.  Instruct students to take notes on the articles they find on these web pages, paying particular attention to the following:

  • Have women been supporters or fighters in wartime?
  • What kinds of support services do they offer?
  • Are there particular women who stand out for their military or support work?
  • How often do women participate in this war?
  • Are there new roles for women in this conflict?
  • How are women portrayed during this time?
  • How are women recruited to participate in this war?
  • What seems to be the attitude of the general public to women in war at this time?

4.  When students have completed their research, ask each group to prepare a PowerPoint or poster presentation that demonstrates their knowledge about women’s roles in their particular war.  Provide opportunities for students to share their knowledge with the whole class, or with the school.
5.  Conclude the lesson by discussing with students what roles they see for women in future conflicts, in particular, do they see new roles emerging from new kinds of conflicts?

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended in several ways, including:

  • Invite local servicewomen to talk with the class about their experiences;
  • Encourage students to investigate the roles of women in war in other countries, particularly Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, and compare with the experience of American women.

Sources & Resources:


Martha Washington at Valley Forge

Martha Washington and Valley Forge

Amazing Women in War and Peace

American Women's Roles in Wartime


This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.