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in the United States,
Americans were safe with the idea that their women
were never put in danger. Balderdash... We just didn't
give our women guns to defend themselves."
And the Women Stood on the Sidewalks and Waved...
By Irene Stuber
(This article originally was published in the Rebel magazine, 1995.)
Rebels are not always thin, brown men with bandannas wrapped around their sweaty brows...
Sometimes the rebels are women - although history has pictured all women wearing silk gowns, languorously sipping afternoon tea waiting for the brave menfolk to come home from the wars.
Our HIStory books honor and record one kind of rebel (the kind men writers can imagine in their mirrors) while the rebels in skirts are ignored.
And the most totally ignored are the women who rebelled against their positions of non-involvement and took up arms against their oppressors - the same as men did.
For example, there was Boadicea (Boudicca) (fl 40-65), who led an army against the conquering Romans, shouting,
"Is not much better to fall honorably in defense of liberty, than be again exposed to the outrages of the Romans? Such, at least, is my resolution; as for you men, you may, if you please, live and be slaves."
Boadicea and her Daughters is a bronze statue in London erected in 1902 that appears to represent the Victorian ideal of Britannia battling tyranny rather than a representation of the Icenian hero. But at least she's recognized.
When her King-husband died, Boadicea of Iceni
was flogged by the Romans and her two daughters raped in front of her.
Men Have Turned Into Women
HERstory remembers other women who fought the fire of violence with violence. Artemsia, 480 BC, Queen Regent of Halicarnassus, was the female commander in the army of Xerxes about whom he said: "My men have turned into women, my women into men."
Artemisia of Halicarnassus was probably the first
woman to have a price put on her head and certainly the first for being
the scourge of a naval fleet.
Donna Catalina de Erauso (1592-1650) cut her hair
and ran away from the nunnery at 15.
By comparing what we know of how women fought in ancient times with what we know of how women disguised themselves to fight in more modern wars, we can certainly surmise that women were actual fighters in wars and battles throughout all of HIStory, albeit, not recognized.
Actions of Women Ignored
For example, while the Minute Men have been idealized in our elementary school textbooks, the actions of women during the Revolutionary War have been ignored.
According to Carol Hymowitz and Michaele Weissman in their marvelous A Women in America:
And in another section, they quote a matron describing the appearance of the British forces as it entered Cambridge, Massachusetts:
This use of women as beasts of burden, prostitutes, etc., as part of an army is never, but never recorded in mainstream HIStories, any more than the accomplishments of those women who actually took up arms.
We're all familiar with the Molly Pitcher tale,
but few think beyond the stirring words and consider what Molly's presence
on the battlefield meant.
On 06-28-1778, while "attending the (artillery)
piece " with her husband at the battle of Monmouth, N.J., a cannon
shot passed between the legs of Mary Hays (Molly Pitcher) tearing off the
lower part of her skirt - and she kept on loading her cannon.
On 07-06-1779, the Continental Congress voted
"that Margaret Corbin, who was wounded
and disabled in the attack on Fort Washington (1776), whilst she heroically
filled the post of her husband who was killed by her side serving a piece
of artillery, do receive, during her natural life, on the continuance of
the said disability, the one-half of the monthly pay drawn by a soldier
in the service of these states; and that she now receive out of the pubic
store, one complete suit of clothes, or the value thereof in money (later
amended to a new outfit every year."
In the American Civil War, in addition to the women doing women things for the soldiers, there were women who disguised themselves as men and fought as the men did and were wounded, captured, and died.
Authorities estimate up to 400 women disguised
themselves as men to join the Union forces, but the number is necessarily
vague because most were never discovered. (And since there was and is widespread
denial that women ever served, the numbers might have been much larger,
especially since there are NONE listed on the Confederate side.
Some of the Women Who Were Wounded - and Killed
Kate W. Howe, aka Tom Smith was wounded at the battle of Lookout Mountain in the Civil War and drew a pension of $17 a month. She was the granddaughter of Gen. Winfield Scott.
Frances Hook, aka Frank Miller/Henderson, wounded
in battle with the 65th Illinois, was discharged but reenlisted in the
19th Illinois regiment.
Sarah Emma Edmonds Seeleye, aka Franklin Thompson of the 2nd Michigan, Company F was the only woman recognized as a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and is buried in the GAR plot in Houston.
Sara Rosetta Wakeman, born 01-16-1843, aka Lyons/Edwin
Wakeman died while with the 153rd NYSV, Co. G&H, as a regular soldier
in the Civil War.
most of the women who soldiered in the Civil War were like Pvt. Charles
How prevalent were women disguised as men soldiers?
Almost at the end of the Civil War, a strange Army regulation went into
By World War I, the enforced medical examinations
at enlistment and close living in barracks precluded women from infiltrating
the male ranks and so they formed women-only groups that were allowed to
assist men - and supposedly were kept away from danger.
Any number of women (English and French as well as Americans) drove ambulances on the front, many were wounded and killed. Even Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize winner, was on the front tending wounded with her portable x-ray machinery.
In Russia there was the Battalion of Death, women fighting in the trenches against the German invaders.
left, Lily Litvak
The tradition of Russian women fighting for their homeland alongside the men continued in World War II when the Soviets defended themselves with women soldiers as well as women fighter and bomber pilots. Almost every region of eastern Russia has its local woman hero who acted as a sniper, rear guard protector, or active soldier.
A thousand Soviet women became pilots, navigators,
even mechanics - and there were three full regiments of 300 women each.
They included such women as Lily Litvak, who shot down 18 German planes
before she herself was shot down when ambushed by eight German planes on
Meanwhile, in the United States, Americans were
safe with the idea that their women were never put in danger.
Ex-nun, nurse, and lesbian author Evelyn Kennedy, in the preface of one of her novels writes:
And Kennedy didn't attempt to list all the American
women who died serving their country in World War II, just the nurses.
We have no statistics on the large number of English
women who were injured, wounded, shot down, or killed while ferrying RAF
planes or serving as women auxiliary soldiers both in England and with
invading forces, but it must have been astounding.
Women uncovering HERstory are just beginning their
investigations and the old legends of women's non-involvement in war and
battles is being dismantled by facts.
One one of the history email lists, one gentleman
wrote a summation of the estimated casualties during the Allied invasion
of Normandy that indicated more than four times the number of French WOMEN
were killed during the invasion of France than Allied soldiers from the
bombings, artillery fire, etc.
American women also went to England to help with
the Battle of Britain before the U.S. entered WWII.
The wounding and killing of American women in
Viet Nam was well on its way to being erased from history when The Wall
was erected in Washington, D.C., with not a single woman's name on it.
But there are several groups who have since come forward, devoting their energies to uncovering women's history in the defense of their country.
The first ever national memorial to women who
have served and died in defense of their country has been erected at the
ceremonial entrance to Arlington Cemetery entrance
One of the better private websites about women
in the military is operated by Capt. Barbara A. Wilson (ret) who was the
first webitor of undelete.org. Her
site is excellent and "remind(s)
you that women are veterans too!"
Some other sites:
http://www.pafb.af.mil/deomi/wommil95.htm is a small site that has some good information and text references.
http://pratt.edu/~rsilva/sovwomen.htm (Soviet women pilots).
http://members.aol.com/veterans/warlib66.htm (Links to American women veteran sites)
One organization that is devoted to unraveling the history of women in the military is The Minerva Center, Inc., 20 Granada Road, Pasadena, Md. 21122, email . It is headed by founder Dr. Linda Grant De Pauw of the Department of History, George Washington University.
One of the great problems regarding recognition of women who fought for their country is summed up in a message sent Women of Achievement and Herstory by Heidi Lyshol, a Norwegian woman who at the time was studying in England:
left, Randi Bratteli
"There was an enormous victory parade in Oslo, Norway's capital after World War II.
"All the military men who had been away for the duration of the war were in it. All the men who had been in the Home Front were in it.
"And on the sidewalks? Everyone else - including the women of the Home Front who did the same kind of dangerous, illegal jobs as the men did. A significant number of Home Front women died in the Ravensbruck concentration camp after being betrayed to the Germans.
"Labour Prime Minister Trygve Bratteli and (his wife) Randi Bratteli are examples of what it was like.
While (the couple) worked side-by-side during the war facing danger equally, HE marched and she cheered at the parade from the sidewalk..."
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© 1990-2006 Irene Stuber, Hot Springs National Park, AR 71902. Originally web-published at http://www.undelete.org/
We are indebted to Irene Stuber for compiling this collection and for granting us permission to make it available again.
The text of the documents in the women's history library may be freely copied for nonprofit educational use.
Except as otherwise
noted, all contents in this collection are copyright 1998-09 the liz library.
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