Of the military, By the
military and For the military - not necessarily always In the military...but
warriors all the same.
Pre Revolutionary Days - 1600s
During King Philip's War in 1675 women leaders of Native American tribes
helped the colonists defend their settlements. One was Awashonka, squaw
sachem of the Saconnet in Rhode Island.
In 1697 a Massachusetts settler, Hannah Duston, from the town of Haverhill,
was captured by Abnaki Indians who were fighting for Canada. After an arduous
hundred mile trek, while resting on an island in New Hampshire, Hannah
decided that she was not going to be tortured or killed in Canada. With
the help of a young boy who had been captured earlier, and Mary Neff who
had been captured with her, she stole the Indians tomahawks and in a daring
nighttime attack the three prisoners managed to kill ten of their captors.
They stole a canoe, scuttled the rest, and escaped taking with them the
scalps of their victims as proof of their story. The first monument, commemorating
the fame of a woman, to be erected in the United States was one to Hannah
Duston, dedicated on June 1, 1861, in Haverhill
The Revolutionary War - 1700s
In October of 1778 Deborah Samson of Plymouth Massachusetts disguised
herself as a young man and presented herself to the American army as a
willing volunter to oppose the common enemy. She enlisted for the whole
term of the war as Robert Shirtliffe and served in the company of Captain
Nathan Thayer of Medway, Massachusetts. For three years she served in various
duties and was wounded twice - the first time by a sword cut on the side
of the head and four months later she was shot through the shoulder. Her
sexual identity went undetected until she came down with a brain fever,
then prevalent among the soldiers. Later a bill was passed granting her
a pension, in addition to certain lands, which she was to receive as an
acknowledgment for her services to the country in a military capacity as
a Revolutionary Soldier
There is the little known story of Rachel and Grace Martin who disguised
themselves as men and assailed a British courier and his guards. They took
his important dispatches, which they speedily forwarded to General Greene.
Then they released the two officers who didn't even know that they were
Then there is Anna Warner, wife of Captain Elijah Bailey, who earned
the title of "The Heroine of Groton" because of her fearless
efforts to aid the wounded on the occasion of the terrible massacre at
Fort Griswald in Connecticut. Anna Bailey went from house to house collecting
material for bandages for the soldiers. Incidentally she denied ever having
used the coarse and profane expressions ever attributed to her.
In 1776 Margaret Corbin stepped up to the artillery during the attack
on Fort Washington when her husband fell by her side and unhesitatingly
took his place and performed his duties. In July of 1779 the Congress awarded
her a pension for her heroism - and a suit of clothes. In the 1920s the
Daughters of the American Revolution had her remains moved from an obscure
grave and re-interred with other soldiers behind the Old Cadet Chapel at
West Point where they also erected a monument to her. Near the place of
the battle, in Fort Tryon Park in New York City, a bronze plaque commemorates
Margaret Corbin "the first American woman to take a soldier's part
in the War for Liberty". Some historians contend that Margaret Corbin,
not Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley - who came along two years later - may have
been the origin of the "Molly Pitcher" legend.
Angelica Vrooman, during the heat of battle, sat calmly in a tent with
a bullet mould, some lead and an iron spoon, moulding bullets for the rangers.
Mary Hagidorn, upon hearing the order by a Captain Hager, for the women
and children to retire to the long cellar, said: "Captain, I shall
not go to that cellar should the enemy come. I will take a spear which
I can use as well as any man and help defend the fort." The captain
seeing her determination answered "then take a spear,Mary, and be
ready at the pickets to repel an attack." She cheerfully obeyed and
held the spear at the pickets till hurrahs for the American flag burst
on her ear and told that all was safe.
The War of 1812
The USS CONSTITUTION met and defeated HMS GUERRIERE, the first in a
grand succession of victories in the War of 1812. It was during this ferocious
battle that the seamen, astonished at the way the British cannonballs were
bouncing off the Constitution's hull, cried out - "Her sides are made
of iron!"; Thus, her nickname, "Old Ironsides." What was
not known at the time was the fact that a U.S. Marine, serving aboard Old
Ironsides, as George Baker, was actually Lucy Brewer. Eventually the Marine
Corps reluctantly acknowledged that Lucy Brewer was in fact the very first
woman marine. It would be over one hundred years before the Marine Corps
seriously began to recruit women - August 1918 - to be specific.
Mexican American War - 1846
Sarah Borginis The Mrs' Borginis and Foley enlisted with their husbands
into the 8th calvary at the Jefferson Barracks, Mo. Sarah became the principal
cook at Fort Brown (Fort Texas) and stayed on the job when General Taylor
moved most of his troops to the mouth of the Rio Grande. However, when
the Mexicans began bombarding Fort Texas, (Fort Brown) from their positions
at Matamoros, she was isssued a musket. It's said she took an active part
in the ensuing fray, never missing a target or preparing a meal. Gen. Zachary
Taylor breveted her to colonel, making her the first female colonel of
the U.S.Army. She moved to El Paso and opened a hotel. For years it was
a favorite stop of '49ers heading for the California gold fields. She later
moved to Arizona and ran a Yuma saloon until her death in 1866. Col. Borginis
was buried at Fort Yuma with full Military Honors - the first woman to
be a ranking U.S.Army officer.
The Civil War - 1860s
Many stories have been written about unique Civil War women, including
Sarah Emma Edmonds, alias Franklin Thompson. In Nurse and Spy in the Union
Army, 1865, Historians have verified that Emma Edmonds, as Franklin Thompson,
did serve in the units she mentioned at the times she said.
Another fairly well known story is that of Jennie Hodgers who served
and fought for three years as Albert Cashier. Her identity wasn't revealed
The trials and tribulations of Lt Harry T. Buford, Confederate Officer,later
found to be Madam Loreta Velazquez, have also been recorded. And historical
records verify the fact that over sixty women were either wounded or killed
at various battles during the Civil War.
Perhaps the most poignant story about women in the Civil War is one
told in the book Women in War , 1866, by Frank Moore. In 1863, at age 19,
a woman known only as Emily, ran away from home and joined the drum corps
of a Michigan Regiment. The regiment was sent to Tennessee and during the
struggle for Chatanooga a minie ball pierced the side of the young soldier.
Her wound was fatal and her sex was disclosed. At first she refused to
disclose her real name but as she lay dying she consented to dictate a
telegram to her father in Brooklyn. Forgive your dying daughter. I have
but a few moments to live. My native soil drinks my blood. I expected to
deliver my country but the fates would not have it so. I am content to
die. Pray forgive me...... Emily.
Did you know that a woman was awarded the congressional Medal of Honor?
Dr Mary Walker, a surgeon in the Civil War, was awarded the nation's
highest honor by President Andrew Johnson. The citation reads, in part,
Whereas it appears from official reports that Dr. Mary E. Walker, a graduate
of medicine, has rendered valuable service to the government, and her efforts
have been earnest and untiring in a variety of ways, and that she was assigned
to duty and served as an assistant surgeon in charge of female prisoners
at Louisville, KY., under the recommendation of Major-Generals Sherman
and Thomas, and faithfully served as contract surgeon in the service of
the United states, and has devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to
the sick and wounded soldiers, both in the field and hospitals, to the
detriment of her own health, and has endured hardships as a prisoner of
war four months in a southern prison while acting as contract surgeon....Dr.
Walker was an early suffragette, one of the earliest women physicians,
a champion for more comfortable clothing for women and a pioneer for women
in many areas that we take for granted today.
The Spanish American War - 1898
1898 when Teddy went charging up San Juan Hill, after the Battleship Maine
blew up in Havana Harbor, sanitary conditions for the wounded soldiers
were deplorable. There were typhoid fever epidemics in the camps and few
qualified medical personnel. Congress quickly authorized the U.S. Army
to procure female nurses but not with military status. They were hired
as civilians under contract and over one thousand women were recruited
to serve - for thirty dollars a month.
From 1898 to 1901 more than 1500 women served in the states, overseas,
and on a U.S. Hospital ship. Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee was instrumental in
the recruiting of these women and continued to argue for nurses as a permanent
part of the military. When Dr. McGee became Acting Assistant Surgeon General
in charge of a new Nurse Corps Division she drafted the necessary legislation
to begin the process of giving nurses some sort of military status. Yet
they had no rank, equal pay, or benefits. Women in the miltary still had
a long way to go.
World War One - 1914-1918
In 1901 and 1908 the establishment of the Army and Navy Nurse Corps
opened the door for women in the military but ever so slightly. It wasn't
until the United States got involved in World War One that some parts of
the government got serious about using woman power. As the Army stumbled
around bureaucratic red tape trying to figure out how to enlist women the
Navy simply ignored the War Department dissenters and quickly recruited
women. Nearly 13,000 women enlisted in the Navy and the Marine Corps on
the same status as men and wore a uniform blouse with insignia. These were
the first women in the U.S to be officially admitted to full military rank
and status. Nurses who served were in Belgium, Italy, England and on troop
trains and transport ships. Army and Navy Nurse Corps women served valiantly
throughout the war, many received decorations for their service.At least
three Army nurses were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nations'
second highest military honor. Several received the Distinguished Service
Medal, our highest noncombat award, and over twenty were awarded the French
Croix de Guerre. Nurses were wounded, and several died overseas and are
buried in military cemeteries far from home. Thirty thousand women served
their country in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps, the Navy as Yeoman (F),
the Marines, and the Coast Guard in WWI.