Editor's Letter is an introduction to the contents and themes of each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage by the editor.

History begets questions. What would have happened if events unfolded in a different way? How do present circumstances impact progressions from the past? How reliable is the available evidence in providing greater truth about the stories that have come down to us? The questions we ask are often as meaningful as the history itself.

One of the most popular traditional stories of the American Revolutionary War is the legend of Molly Pitcher. But was she a real person? Diaries and old history books tell of a woman’s courageous moment on a battlefield, replacing her husband at the cannon after he fell to help continue the fight against the British. But the location and other details in these stories vary and none clearly identify her as the same person. Several women who were known to have fought in the war under similar circumstances have been considered the model for the folkloric figure who by the mid-19th century became known as “Molly Pitcher.” In this edition’s cover story, “Two Faces of Molly Pitcher,” Pennsylvania Military Museum curator Jennifer Eaton explains the camp follower phenomenon and what brought women to the battlefield in the era of the Revolution, examines the lives of two Pennsylvania women — Margaret Corbin and Mary Hays — who have been identified as Molly Pitcher, and discusses how the image of the legend became entwined with the ideology of Republican Motherhood in the era of national expansion and reform.

The Summer Olympics have been cancelled three times since the modern games began in 1896 — in 1916 because of World War I and in 1940 and 1944 because of World War II. In the latter years especially, many athletes in peak condition missed out on the chance to win gold, silver and bronze medals for success in their various competitions. Primed in track and field at the outbreak of war, Barney Ewell of Lancaster was one contender who was able to retain his abilities until the 1948 Olympics, when at age 30 he won one gold and two silver medals in London. But what would Ewell have achieved in those two lost competitions? In “The Fastest Man on Earth: Barney Ewell and the Story of Two Missed Olympiads,” frequent contributor Todd M. Mealy considers the sprinter’s high school and Penn State college accomplishments to support a case that Ewell likely would have attained record-breaking victories in those years, perhaps even surpassing the 1936 triumph in Berlin of his hero, Jesse Owens.

Suburbanization exploded after the ascent of the automobile in the 20th century, but even before that time, commuter rail service had set the ball rolling. In “The Paoli Local and the Birth of Pennsylvania’s Main Line,” Philadelphia-area historian Lorett Treese explains how a commuter rail line transformed farmland along its route, west of Philadelphia, into a suburb that became known as the Main Line. The article follows the Paoli Local’s chronology from its origins in 1834 as part of the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad (P&C), with stops at popular inns and hotels, to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s purchase of P&C and its subsequent improvements that by the 1870s increased daily transport for commuters between Philadelphia and the growing towns along the way, including Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Wayne, Strafford and Paoli. The Paoli Local survived the merger that became the short-lived Penn Central, continuing to its present service through SEPTA, but the article poses the question, how will changes in the structure of work and commuting due to the COVID-19 pandemic impact the line’s future?

Kyle R. Weaver