Margaret Cochran Corbin, The First Woman Soldier To Receive An American Military Pension
Picking up where her husband, who had been killed in battle, left off, Corbin showed her bravery during the American Revolution
It wasn’t until Harry Truman signed the 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law that women had an official place in the American military, but in truth they had been a steady presence for many years before that. This is evidenced by the fact that the first woman to receive a military pension from the United States was Margaret Cochran Corbin for her service during the American Revolution.
Born in 1751 in Pennsylvania, Margaret was the daughter of Irish immigrants. She lost both of her parents when she was only 5, as her father was killed in an attack by a local Native American group, and her mother was taken away by them; her ultimate fate never being determined. It was only because Margaret and her brother were not with their parents were they able to survive themselves. She spent the remainder of her childhood living with an uncle before marrying John Corbin, who was a farmer from Virginia, in 1772.
The couple moved to Pennsylvania to put down roots as tensions between the colonists and England continued to intensify. When the conflict exploded into fighting, John joined the army, acting as a matross who fired cannons. Because Margaret had some training in nursing, she was permitted to travel with him as a camp follower, attending to the sick and wounded, in addition to other duties like cooking and cleaning.
One of the most important duties Margaret performed was bringing soldiers water during battles. This earned her (and other women who performed the same valuable function) the nickname of “Molly Pitcher,” a ubiquitous moniker for the unofficial position on the battlefield.
On November 16, 1776 at Fort Washington in New York, soldiers left behind by American General George Washington when he retreated south, were attacked by Hessians; mercenaries fighting for the British. During the skirmish, John, who was firing a cannon from the top of a small ridge, was killed. His death meant in the moment that his valuable weapon was not being used to defend…