In 1860, there were 39 women here at the fort. Most were the wives and daughters of officers and enlisted men. Others were governesses, servants, and cooks hired by officers. Civilian women like Wilhemina Randall, the wife of the post sutler, lived here, too.
The wives of enlisted men usually worked as domestics for officers' families. Laundering was the only "women's work" regulated by the army. Laundresses received a set payment, living quarters, one ration per day, and medical care. At Ridgely, the laundresses lived here in log houses behind the stone barracks. Each was hired to wash for an average of 19 soldiers, and worked six days a week. Laundresses were generally well paid, getting 50¢ per month per man for enlisted men's laundry and $3.00 a month for officers' laundry. In addition, they could pick up a little extra cash mending or baking, or assisting officers' wives as nurses and midwives.
"To Be a Soldier's Wife"
When the first troops arrived here in 1853 to construct Fort Ridgely, a reporter with the expedition wrote about the plight of the women. He observed:
To be a soldier in the ranks is a hard and trying fate, but to be a soldier's wife, with a family of small children set down upon this remote and lonely frontier, with nothing but canvas to shelter them from the scorching rays of the summer sun and the pelting of the pitiless storm, is vastly more trying to the poor victims, and agonizing to the better feeling of humanity
Minnesota Historical Society