Historical Stereotypes: Where Crazy Military Spouse Expectations Come From

There are stereotypes that reference every aspect of a human’s entire existence: race, gender, sexual orientation, class status…you name it, there’s a stereotype attached to it, including military spouses. 

But not all stereotypes are bad…or are they? It depends on who you ask.

The last edition of “Historical MilSpouse” covered the difference between the Mil-Spouse Powerhouse vs the Whiney Dependa.

This month we’ll explore where these crazy milspouse expectations came from (like serial volunteering).

If we go back all the way to the Revolutionary War, there were spoken and unspoken expectations of military spouses (then known solely as ‘Wives’).

A “good” military wife was one who worked her tail off to get her hubby promoted up the ranks. A “good” military wife was expected to volunteer, attend social functions and never EVER complain.

Martha Washington can largely be thanked for setting this standard all those years ago. She was one of the first (and most notable) spouses to follow her husband wherever he went. Through historical diaries, letters and autobiographies, you’ll find that most people who encountered Martha spoke of her kindness, compassion and humble personality in a saint-like way.

Even though she came from money, she didn’t act as though she were better than anyone. At one of the (many) social gatherings she hosted, she was wearing homemade clothing and the guest of honor thought she was ‘the help’. When all of the well-dressed wives came over that day, they were shocked to find her in an apron and no jewelry. Without missing a beat, Martha explained that separating from England meant that many of the luxuries and resources they had become accustomed to were no longer available. “We women must make ourselves independent and learn to do without the things we can’t make at home.” (I’m wondering if this was where the whole “put on your big girl panties” term came from?)

She probably had no idea that she would be the one to set the bar for military spouses, or that many of us are still trying to live up to that bar today. Her attitude and actions set in motion the expectations that would be placed on us: To remain a supportive social butterfly, a spouse and parent that doesn’t complain and to become a volunteer extraordinaire.