| Early Years:
the Civil War
||Jennie Hodgers, in uniform
as Albert D.J. Cashiers, fought for three years with the 95th
Illinois Infantry Regiment. After the war, she maintained her
identity as Cashier, working as a farmhand and participating,
in uniform, in patriotic events. Her identity was not discovered
until 1913 during a physical exam after a household accident.
During the Civil War, women on both sides of
the Mason-Dixon line rose to challenge Victorian assumptions of
feminine frailty and the impropriety of women in the public sphere.
On the home front, northern and southern women took over households,
ran family businesses, maintained farms and plantations and provided
daily care and food for their families while the men went to war.
They formed aid societies or bonnet brigades to knit socks, sew
uniforms and flags. Women helped organize and run public relief
and sanitary commissions to gather and distribute supplies to the
In more official capacities, women staffed government
and regimental hospitals as nurses and matrons, served disguised
as male soldiers fighting at the front, as laundresses and cooks,
as spiesand at least one, as a doctor. (Read
about Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman ever awarded the Congressional
Medal of Honor.) They were wounded, killed, held prisoners of war
and forced from their homes as refugees.
In the North, the War Department appointed Dorothea
Dix as Superintendent of Women Nurses in 1861. Dix organized and
staffed military hospitals and established firm criteria for her
contract nurses and matrons.
Dix discouraged single women from nursing because of the improprieties
involved in close contact with strange men and hostility to their
presence. Contract nurses were required to be over 30 years old,
matronly in appearance, able to pay their own way, have two letters
of recommendation, wear brown or black garments and to be sober
and self-sacrificing. They received forty cents a day plus a ration.
Over 3,200 served.
||In addition to
her nursing services, Clara Barton began a program for locating
those missing in action during the Civil War.
Clara Barton, later the founder of the American
Red Cross, served as a volunteer in the Patent Office when the war
began. When Barton learned that many of the wounded from First Bull
Run had suffered, not from want of attention but from need of medical
supplies, she advertised for donations and began an independent
organization to distribute goods.
In 1862, Barton was granted permission to deliver
supplies directly to the front, which she did without fail for the
next two years. She followed army operations through the Virginia
theater and the Charleston, SC, area and her work caring for casualties
from the Battle of the Wilderness near Fredericksburg, Virginia,
and other sites attracted national notice. At this time she formed
her only official Civil War connection with any organization when
she accepted appointment as served as superintendent of nurses in
the Union army.
Catholic nuns, too, served as nurses for both
the North and South in hospitals and aboard steamships. In the beginning,
they were the only source of trained nursesmale or female,
because of their education and training in 28 already-established
Catholic hospitals. Nine nuns are known to have died in war service.
Women in the South did not have to leave their
homes to reach the front. The war, fought in large part in the Confederacy,
confronted many right on their own doorsteps. An estimated 1,000
southern women nursed in hospitals. Countless others nursed the
sick and wounded who marched through their regions. They faced overwhelming
difficulties because of lack of organized relief efforts in the
South and an ill-equipped Confederate government.
||Rose Greenhow is perhaps
the most notorious female spy for the Confederacy. Even when
imprisoned, she managed to get messages back to the South. During
the latter part of the War, she traveled in Europe developing
sympathy for the southern cause.
Freed slave women and children also followed
Union armies and lived on the outskirts of camp. Some obtained employment
as nurses, cooks, laundresses and personal servants to white officers.
The Union army also moved many African American women onto nearby
plantations to raise cotton for the northern government to sell.
Wives of black soldiers qualified for widow's pensions after the
war when they legalized their marriages through the
Women spies often proved paramount to the development
of battle strategy because they supplied information on troop movement,
size and supplies, and the placement and strength of fortifications.
Women sometimes traveled with information hidden in their clothing
while others disguised themselves to facilitate their travel or
to obtain information. When captured, then were treated as criminals
rather than prisoners of war.
Women's participation in the Civil War became
a catalyst for changes of women's roles in society and in the military.
Successful Civil War nursing and relief work led to an increasing
number of paid positions for women in these fields in the postwar
period and to the opening of the first formal schools of nursing
training for women in 1873. It established a precedent for women's
inclusion in future war efforts.