Women In the Military

By Aria Pathak

Women In the Military

Focus point: Women, United States, 1600 - 1800s

For well over 200 years women have contributed to military efforts in one way or another. They’ve served as medics, spies, and have worked domestically to provide for troops. Getting to the front lines, fighting in combat roles, or even working in leadership was an extremely arduous process, and many women disguised themselves as men so they could serve. This article will go into depth about multiple women and their place of women in the military throughout the past 200+ years in the United States.


Origins:

Native American women, 17th & 18th centuries-

In the late 17th century, an Indigenous tribe called Sakonnet living in present-day Rhode Island- then called New England- fought in a war called King Philip’s War (also named) First Indian War and Metacom’s Rebellion). The female chief of the Sakonnet tribe, Awashonks, fought in said war and later made peace with the colonists. Awashonks was known for her diplomacy, negotiation talent, and natural leadership qualities. Later, in the mid 18th century, Nanyehi, political leader of the Cherokee, found in The Battle of Taliwa (in present day Georgia) alongside her husband. After he fell in battle, she led the Cherokee to victory. In Cherokee, her name translates to “One who goes about.” Nanyehi was beloved by her tribe and advocated for allyship alongside the European Americans. On the topic of Cherokee battle, during the period of the American Revolution War, a woman named Cuhtahlatah inspired her tribe to fight back against the enemy following the death of her husband. Her name means “wild hemp,” and she aided in leading her tribe to victory.


Nanyehi (Nancy Ward in English)




Awashonks


U.S. Army:

Revolutionary War and the 19th century-

Women in the U.S. Army traditionally served as seamstresses, water bearers, nurses, cooks, and laundressers. Their first recorded roles in the army began in the 18th century when the sick and wounded soldiers asked Congress for a matron to supervise and care for them. Not only did these women attend to the sick and injured and cook, but they, when disguised as men, sacrificed their lives as saboteurs (a person who engages in sabotage) as well as while working as nurses.

An example of such sacrifice would be from Elizabeth Jackson (pictured right), the mother of Andrew Jackson. Aboard a British prison ship, Jackson contracted and passed away from cholera while attending to sick passengers. Two other women, Margaret Corbin and Jemima Warner, took on the military role of their husbands after they passed away- similar to Nanyehi and Cuhtahlatah.


Corbin, who was a registered nurse, followed her husband into war and worked alongside him in a cannon crew. After her spouse died in combat, Corbin (pictured right) was able to take on his role and fight back as she had watched him load and shoot cannons countless times. Ater becoming too injured to continue to fight, Margaret Corbin became the first woman in U.S. history to receive a military pension from Congress. Jemima Warner (not pictured, who followed the Continental Army into battle, led a path that differed from most military women. Warner joined the army when she was seventeen- instead of starting off as a matron or nurse like her peers. She served as a private, which is the lowest grade in the military class, in the company of Captain Matthew Smith. As mentioned earlier, Warner was one of the many who fought after their husbands were killed by action or illness. Her husband, James Warner, fell ill in November of 1775, she elected to stay with him as he passed. And after he did, Jemima Warner traveled 20 miles, alone in the wilderness, to catch up with the rest of the battalion.


While it is crucial to note the inspiring fights from the women of the military, it is significant to talk of the hardships they went through. This can be exemplified through Jemima Warner, who, when sent by General Richard Montgomery to deliver letters of surrender to Governor Guy Carleton during the invasion of Quebec (1775 - 1776), was refused admittance into the city. When she re-attempted to enter, the letters were torn up by the Governor and she was again refused admittance.


Spies:

Focus point: African American Intelligence, Union, Civil War

The final section of this article will focus on an African American woman who served as spy for the Union Army.

Mary Elizabeth Bowser, also known as Mary Jane Richards, was enslaved by the Van Lews family in Richmond, Virginia. She was educated by them in Philadelphia, and following the death of Mr. Van Lews, she was freed.

Once freed by the Mrs. Van Lews and her daughter, Mary Bowser (pictured right) worked to help prisoners during the Civil War escape from their encampments. She did this by working within a network of men and women curated by Mrs. Van Lews to send messages between prisoners. Her other contribution includes her work for the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. When working in the Confederate White House under Confederacy President Jefferson Davies, Elizabeth Bowser pretended to have gone and went under the alias of “Crazy Bet.” While under this alias, Bowser held the prison escapees mentioned earlier at her home and nursed them back to health. She was able to gain information from these soldiers who had often overheard their captors speaking of plans, and sent coded messages to Grant through the Union Lines.¹ In her post-war life, Mary Elizabeth Bowser went on to get married, become a teacher, and a seamstress.


¹It is significant to mention that some argue that many of the accounts of Mary Elizabeth Bowser’s work may be false and that her exact efforts are unknown


Conclusion:

Women have contributed countless efforts to revolution and war in the United States. They endeavored through grief, social and political obstacles, and they have sacrificed their physical and mental health. From making peace with colonists or fighting back against them to grueling work on prison ships and coded messages from sick soldiers, these women embody true power and resilience in a time when they were seen as unequal to the men around them. It is crucial we remember and retell the stories of these women- as well as the hundreds of others- who broke standards to build a world that will accept the next generation of young women.


Women in the Army

Women in the U.S. Army

https://www.army.mil/women/history/#:~:text=The%20origins%20of%20service,as%20spies%20for%20the%20cause.


Wikipedia

Timeline of women in war in the United States, pre-1945

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_women_in_war_in_the_United_States,_pre-1945


Wikipedia

Jemima Warner

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jemima_Warner


Wikipedia

Cuhtahlatah

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuhtahlatah


Wikipedia

Nancy Ward

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_Ward


Wikipedia

Awashonks

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awashonks


Wikipedia

Margaret Corbin

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Corbin


Smithsonian Magazine

Women Spies of the Civil War

Smithsonian Magazine

8 May, 2011

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/women-spies-of-the-civil-war-162202679/#:~:text=Mary%20Elizabeth%20Bowser%20(a.k.a.%20Mary%20Jane%20Richards)%2C%20Union%20Spy&text=Eliza%20and%20her%20daughter%20Elizabeth,soldiers%20at%20nearby%20Libby%20Prison.


American Battlefield Trust

Mary Jane Richards

American Battlefield Trust

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/mary-jane-richards


AAREG

Mary Elizabeth Bowser, Undercover Agent born

AAREG

https://aaregistry.org/story/mary-elizabeth-bowser-cunning-and-dedicated/#:~:text=Bowser%20was%20born%20a%20slave,had%20her%20educated%20in%20Philadelphia.



Women History Blog

Black Women Intelligence Agents in the Civil War

https://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2013/08/african-american-women-spies.html


All images found on google.com