Deborah Sampson: Revolutionary

Deborah Sampson was born on December 17, 1760. Always a patriot, she became a hero of the American Revolution by disguising herself as a man and joining the Light Infantry Company of the 4th Massachusetts Regiment. She was the only woman to earn a full military pension for participating in the Revolutionary Army. Sampson enlisted in 1782. American women were first legally allowed to hold combat positions in 2013. It took over 230 years for the U.S. military to lead by Deborah Sampson’s example.

The story of Deborah Sampson’s life and military career is an important chapter in the story of the struggle for equal rights. Over the years, women have fought hard to be treated fairly in the military, the job market and in day-to-day life. Ms. Sampson is a symbol of how the roles of women in society have changed, and a reminder of the changes yet to come.

Thank you for being a part of the Professional Educators Network. We hope you enjoy this new installment of History’s ARTifacts. Please watch the educational video with your students, download the poster by this month’s artist, Jordan.

Meet the Artist: Jordan

Jordan meet the artist

Jordan is a visual and performance artist from Minneapolis, Minnesota who now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Her choreography explores the overlap between dance and sculpture by performing stillness and repetitive movements. Jordan has exhibited at The White Page, Rochester Art Center, ACRE Projects, The Soap Factory and Franconia Sculpture Park. Her performance work was recently presented at Lynden Sculpture Garden and the Walker Art Center. She is the editor of INREVIEW, a free art-criticism publication.

Activities for Deborah Sampson: Revolutionary

Deborah Samspon posed as a man so she could serve in the military during the Revolutionary War. Not only did she see combat, she was honorably discharged from West Point and eventually paid a pension – just like her male counterparts. Even though she was recognized at the time for her heroism, she still struggled financially later in life. Social Studies students can discuss a number of issues including gender roles and careers, military service and veterans’ rights.
After her discharge, Deborah Sampson still had to fight to receive a military pension, something that was standard for her male veteran counterparts. In 1805, she was awarded a pension of four dollars a month. Have your students adjust this number for inflation to figure out what that pension would represent in today’s dollars. They can use the inflation calculator at this website. Open up a discussion on whether the students think this is a fair amount of money for the service she provided.
Deborah Sampson was wounded in combat during the Revolutionary War. She allowed doctors to attend to a wound on her forehead, but she left the hospital before they could examine her leg, for she feared her identity would be discovered. She removed one of the bullets herself, using a penknife and sewing needle, but she was unable to remove the second bullet. She never fully recovered from her wounds. Have your students discuss the advancements in medicine that have happened in the past 200 years, including antibiotics, anesthesia, surgical techniques and general hygiene practices.
The Secret Soldier: The Story of Deborah Sampson by Ann McGovern is a Scholastic biography that follows the life and military service of Deborah Sampson. Her life as one of the very few women who saw combat during her time serves as an inspiration to all. The book details the struggles Ms. Sampson faced both during the war and after. The book can open up classroom discussions about gender roles, the military and how things have changed (or not) in the intervening 200 years.
This month’s poster by artist Jordan was created in the Pop Art style. Students can research pop artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg. Have them create their own Pop Art pieces using painting, sketching and drawing techniques.

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