The Molly Pitcher Project: Helen O’Beirne (Col ’02, Law ’14), law professor Anne Coughlin, Ariel Linet (Law ’13), Rebecca Cohn (Law ’13) and Kyle Mallinak (Law ’13). Photo by Richard Lord.

When her husband was killed by British fire in a 1776 Revolutionary War battle, Margaret Corbin reputedly took his place behind a cannon and returned fire. Wounded in battle, the woman named “Molly Pitcher” in legend later received a pension from the U.S. Congress for her combat role. Now a group of UVA law students and professor Anne Coughlin want combat roles formally extended to women. “When the Pentagon made a deliberate decision to put women in combat situations while maintaining this fiction that they are not in combat jobs, they crossed the Rubicon,” says Kyle Mallinak (Law ’13).

Mallinak and Coughlin co-wrote an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the lesser status afforded female soldiers and military personnel. In addition to Coughlin, however, the UVA law students have a woman ready to fight alongside them: Tally Parham (Law ’96), a former U.S. Air Force major who fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom, is the project’s lead counsel.

The denial of equal combatant status means that women are not allowed access to some sensitive military discussions where they may carry influence. “We don’t know whether or not women would bring different perspectives to bear on when it’s wise to wage a war,” says Coughlin, “but we certainly want their perspectives, whatever they are, to be part of the dialogue and debate.”

The Pentagon recently announced plans to allow women to serve in jobs closer to the front lines, but members of the UVA team have vowed to continue pressing their case.