Tag Archives: women’s studies

Perhaps the most famous heroine in American combat history is Molly Pitcher.  At an early age children know her name and how she was on stand-by with water to cool the canons at the Battle of Monmouth (1778) then took up her husband’s station at the cannon when he fell in battle.  One children’s book proclaims, “General Washington heard what Mary had done.  He honored her by making her a sergeant in the army. From then on, Mary was known as ‘Sergeant Molly.'”[1]  This particular work is geared towards children of six years of age and does some interesting ‘adult’ things by including detailed information on her and her husband’s lineage .  On the cover is a strong, powerful, striking image of Pitcher and so striking is this image, that the battlefield fades away in the background in a haze of gunpowder smoke.

Monument of Molly Pitcher in Old Carlisle Cemetery, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Erected in 2000 for the 250th anniversary of the founding of Cumberland County

Molly Pitcher’s monument from afar.

This isn’t the only recent children’s book written on the heroine.  There is: Jessica Glasser’s,  Molly Pitcher: Young American Patriot (2006), Anne Rockwell’s, They Called her Molly Pitcher (2006), Augusta Stevenson’s, Molly Pitcher: Young Patriot (Childhood of Famous Americans) (1986), and Frances E. Ruffin’s, Molly Pitcher (American Legends) (2002). These are just a few and don’t include academic works.  In fact, so much is written on Pitcher it would seem that she won the Battle of Monmouth single-handedly.  Unfortunately, the American forces at the Battle of Monmouth only fought to a standstill and Pitcher has seemingly become the only legend out of the battle.[2]  So convoluted is this picture that on the back of a sing-along book dedicated to Pitcher it reads, “She helped win a big battle in the American Revolution.”[3]  In the ‘big battle’ Pitcher ‘helped win’, British General Henry Clinton was able to retreat and later the same year, sacked Savannah.[4]  The battle itself is important to remember as it was the first major battle fought along side America’s strongest ally, the French, and includes one of the most heroic moments in American history when General George Washington met retreating Continentals and rallied them to turn around and engage in a frontal assault on Clinton, forcing him to retreat.

Sarah Edmonds as herself: Left. Sarah Edmonds as Franklin Thomas: Right.

Voices aloud, calling attention to this work being intended to focus solely on the American Civil War and not the Revolution, are correct in pointing this out.  However, where are the children’s books on Sarah Edmonds, or the sing-along of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, and the robust statue of Albert Cashier?  Nowhere.  Indeed, cross-dressing women in the Civil War have been ignored and their role in combat downplayed.  For all intents and purposes, Sarah Edmonds, Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, and Albert Cashier would be forgotten if not for a new wave of historiography giving proper due to the cross-dressing women of the Civil War.  While it may be argued that some of their stories were of no secret during and after the conflict,  the fact remains that the cross-dressing women that helped win the war lack a proper memorial.

The story of Sarah Edmonds begins in Canada.  Born in New Brunswick in 1841, her father didn’t much care for a daughter and fled south to the United States as ‘Franklin Thompson’.[5]  After joining the Union first as a male nurse, she applied to be a spy under General George B. McClellan.  What is amazing about this is that she successfully spied on the Confederates as a black man.[6] Edmonds contracted malaria after eleven successful spy missions and left the military having proved herself a heroine in the world of gathering information against the enemy.  In 1884 ‘Franklin Thompson’, by this time going by Emma Seelye, petitioned Congress to grant a pension which Congress did so at $12 a month for service during the Civil War for the rest of Edmond’s life.[7]

Pension of Sarah Edmonds listed as Franklin Thompson.

Edmonds was open about her time during the Civil War, going so far as to give interviews and write on her experiences.  In an incident at the Battle of Antietam (1862), Edmonds recalled that she discovered the dead body of another female soldier disguised as a man.[8]  Historian Anita Silvey contrasts this by pointing out that, “At least six women remained undiscovered in the army until they gave birth to babies.”[9]  Edmonds didn’t stay in the role of Thompson for any long period of time, but bravely served her country on the front lines.

Sarah Rosetta Wakeman volunteered as a man in the 153rd of New York after her brother was killed in battle.[10]  Wakeman went by the first name Lyons and sent letters during the war addressing herself as both Rosetta and Lyons.[11]  She died before the end of the war contracting dysentery.[12] Wakeman is the archetype heroine, showing bravery in the face of danger.  In a letter she wrote to her father on July 2, 1863 Wakeman writes, “Our regiment has laid out in the fields for some time every night, awatching [sic] for the rebels.  For if they do, they will get lick.”[13]  She is amazingly candid and brings to light some of the issues of the soldiers on the battlefield like pay.  She was steadfast in every way proclaiming, “For my part I am ready at a minute’s warning to go into the field of battle and take my stand with the rest.”[14] Wakeman invokes emotions that are certain to make individuals laugh and empathize with a true heroine, but are also sure to instill wonderment in her courage as a soldier.  In a memorable letter she writes, “I am as independent as a hog on the ice.  If it is God [sic] will for me to fall in the field of battle, it is my will to go and never return home.”[15]

Sarah Wakeman as Lyons Wakeman

One of the most interesting and tragic occurrences of a cross-dressing female soldier during the Civil War is that of Albert Cashier.  Cashier was born Jennie Hodgers.  Serving in  the 95th of Illinois during the Civil War, Cashier lived his entire adult life as a man.  His immersion into the cross-dressing role was not, it should be pointed out, intended to solely help him serve during the Civil War.  As such, he can be viewed as a hero in the modern transgender community, serving his country through battles like the Siege of Vicksburg (1863).  It was not discovered until 1911 that Cashier was physically female when he was examined by a doctor for a wound in a car crash.[16]  In a 1915 deposition given by a soldier that served with Cashier the comrade said, “I never suspected anything of that kind.”[17]  Any memorial depicting Cashier is sure to invoke controversy, but his contribution in the struggle for equality should never be forgot.

Albert Cashier

Grave of Albert Cashier

Deposition Concerning Cashier

Remembering the role of women in the Civil War is paramount, properly done only through memorialization.  The statue of Pitcher is feminine in nature, safe in assurance that she stayed within cultural conventions and stepped into the role of heroine by taking up her position from a masculine figure, only to continue his work.  What is not conventional is the role of women in the Civil War, cross-dressing and posing as men in order to fight.  A children’s book on cross-dressing soldiers during the Civil War will most likely never be written.  However, the women that fought during the Civil War deserve no less recognition.  It may be contented that Cumberland County chose Pitcher to represent the area and as such, have discretion in the manner in which she is depicted.  Pitcher, however, is not the typical heroine in American history as the women mentioned here prove.  The Civil War female crossdressing soldiers broke social boundaries that existed then and indeed, even today.  These individuals, it must be contented, should not be memorialized out of the act of crossdressing alone, but also the extreme bravery and courage they displayed in defending their country.  The Civil War may have been a war between ‘brothers’, but the role of ‘sisters’ cannot be discounted either.  Only by incorporating cross-dressing female soldiers in the story of the Civil War, through memorialization, can the full picture of the Civil War really come to light.

Frances Clayton as a male soldier.


[1]Rick Burke, Molly Pitcher (Chicago: Heinemann-Raintree, 2003), 23.

[2]Dennis P. ed. Ryan, New Jersey in the American Revolution, 1763-1783: A Chronology (Trenton: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1975), 343.

[3]Michael Dahl, Bring Us Water, Molly Pitcher!: a Fun Song About the Battle of Monmouth (Minneapolis: Picture Window Books, 2004), Back cover.

[4] Henry Beebee Carrington, Battles of the American Revolution, 1775-1781 (Charleston, SC: Nabu Press, 2010), 477.

[5]Susanna McLeod, “Canadian Sarah Edmonds a Civil War Spy,” Canadian History, (accessed June 22, 2012).

[6] Ibid.

[7]Laura Leedy Gansler, The Mysterious Private Thompson: The Double Life of Sarah Emma Edmonds, Civil War Soldier (University of Nebraska: Bison Books, 2007), 98.

[8]Anita Silvey, I’ll Pass For Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War (New York: Clarion Books, 2008), 66.

[9]Silvey, I’ll Pass For Your Comrade, 77.

[10]Silvey, I’ll Pass For Your Comrade, 84.

[11]Maureen Zieber, “Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, ‘Private Lyons Wakeman’,” (accessed June 26, 2012).


[13]Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, An Uncommon Soldier: the Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, Alias Private Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1996), 36.


[15]Ibid., 42.

[16]DeAnne Blanton, “Women Soldiers of the Civil War,” Prologue Magazine, Spring, 1993, 25.

[17]Robert D. Henneh, Deposition on the Case of Albert J.D. Cashier, 1915

While reading Dixie’s Daughters by Karen L. Cox, she discusses briefly the role of women suffragists within the UDC, but at the same time eludes that many women were involved in the suffragist movement in chapter three, “Rise of the UDC.”[1] Not having much knowledge regarding feminism in the South after the Civil War, I decided to commit myself to finding out just how involved women of the South were in obtaining the right to vote, while upholding their Lost Cause ideology. In the Journal of Southern History, the article “Kate Gordon and the Woman-Suffrage Movement of the South,” by Kenneth Johnson gives a brief history of the role southern women played.

Southern women faced greater challenges in obtaining equal rights than their northern counterparts and had to approach it with even greater tact. In order to appeal to the southern men and maintain their Lost Cause crusade, southern women had to circumvent ways around a federal amendment. The Lost Cause was still very much in motion during 1912-1913, when women became more involved in their rights.[2]

The women of the South had to devise a plan that would placate their male politicians and simultaneously ensure their equality. There were two ways to obtain this: one join the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) on a federal level or two create a new association that upheld states’ rights and obtain their equality at a state level.[3] Southerner Kate Gordon, would take the lead in creating a new organization known as the Southern States Woman Suffrage Conference (SSWSC) their ultimate objective was to, “’to obtain the enfranchisement of the women of the Southern States principally through the medium of state legislation and to promote the cause of suffrage throughout the United States’”.[4]

With two leading women’s rights organizations tensions began to rise between the NAWSA and SSWSC. The NAWSA or northern women’s suffragist organization believed that there were other ways to obtain equal rights (not through states’ rights) for women in the South. Kate Gordon now president of the SSWSC disagreed, even suggesting that the NAWSA was trying to promote reconstruction instead of women’s rights. In addition members of the SSWSC wanted to disenfranchise blacks.[5] Not all women of the South were part of the SSWSC, another party existed, known as the moderate southern suffragists, these women were members of the NAWSA.[6]

In keeping with the white supremacy reign of the South the women of the SSWSC had to ensure that while they promoted equal rights for women they did not condone equality for blacks. According to Cole, “Miss Gordon asserted that intelligent white women should be able to use the same means to protect themselves from colored women as the southern men used to protect themselves from colored men.”[7] This was part of the rhetoric in addition to maintaining states’ rights over federal control that the SSWSC hoped would appeal to democrat politicians in the South.

The SSWSC, especially in the beginning maintained a large membership but it became clear to many women that the SSWSC while honorable in maintaining the Lost Cause was not going to acquire equal rights. The democratic politicians had turned their back on the women who so valiantly restored their masculinity. In the end the SSWSC’s relentless pursuit to gain women’s equality through state’s rights, lack of support from democratic politicians, desire to disenfranchise blacks, and lack of members subsequently dismantled the organization. States’ rightists still carried on their devotion to the obtaining women’s rights without giving up the principles of the Lost Cause but they too in the end were defeated when the nineteenth amendment was ratified in 1920.

[1] Karen L. Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (New Perspectives On the History of the South) (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003), 33.

[2] Kenneth R. Johnson, “Kate Gordon and the Woman-Suffrage Movement in the South,” The Journal of Southern History 38, no. 3 (1972), 369 (accessed June 21, 2012).

[3] Johnson, 370.

[4] Johnson, 371.

[5] Johnson, 372.

[6] Johnson, 373.

[7] Johnson, 374.

*Posted on behalf of Mario Arellano.  Please direct your comments to him.*

Gone with the Wind (1939) highlights the evolution of gender roles.  First, gender roles began and remained traditional in that men displayed power and masculine characteristics whereas the women displayed sanctity and innocence.  Bruce Chadwick’sThe Real Civil War also speaks to the male gender issues not only during the Civil War but also during the many decades after.  Similarly, the women in the film maintained traditional gender roles whereas all sought the perfect man or someone to take care of them for the years to come.

During and after the war however, the women in the film realized their handicap and aimed to achieve more not out of pride but out of necessity. As time progressed, women in America aimed to achieve more by relying on the African American precedents, as well as their much earned right to establish themselves as citizens by taking on new roles and new challenges.  Moreover, female gender roles were evolving and continued to evolve following the American Civil War whereas opportunities to express one’s beliefs and opinions grew to the point that they would forever continue to evolve.   Indeed this was quite evident in the film.

From the beginning, the males in the film aimed to display an image of power and strength in arguing for the Confederacy going to war. They not only romanticized the idea, but they even went as far as to threaten Captain Butler when he made the comment about the North possessing more of the resources needed to fight a war.   In addition, Bruce Chadwick speaks to the issue of male gender roles claiming that Clark Gable’s character Captain Butler questioned the idea of crying on film because of the idea that it might tarnish his masculine image.*  This suggests that nearly sixty five years later, men still desired to display manly images of themselves similar to the men in film.

On the other hand, Scarlet’s attitude from the opening scene to the part where all the boys left for war tended to focus on the female desire to find love.  Her personal image is worth mentioning because she went above and beyond to acquire the attention of the boys at the picnic.  Hoping to win the heart of Ashley and secure her own future, Scarlet displayed a sense of innocence in order to win the attention of all the males at the party including Ashley.  Then later in the film after realizing she has nothing left to rely on because the war ruined her families land and Ashley was now married, Scarlet does something totally outside a females means in purchasing a lumber mill to provide herself and her family.  Prior to the war, the idea of a female performing predominantly male jobs remained unheard of.  However, as the times changed during and after the war, Scarlet was forced to take action in order to make amends.

Viewing the film from the gender perspective, it is quite apparent that the evolution of gender roles continued to change during and after the Civil War. Women accepted new roles out of necessity while men aimed to portray masculine characteristics to compensate the ongoing changes that women continued to take advantage of.

*Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 2001), 186.

Many of my classmates were surprised when I said I never had seen Gone With the Wind at my ripe old age of 22.  After having watched it, I can understand their shock and surprise as it remains not only a film representative of its time, but also a classic film that embodies everything a good movie should: action, surprise, and of course, a tantalizing love story.  However, in its other purpose of preserving Civil War memory and what life may have been like for Confederate wives during the Civil War, I ultimately think Gone With the Wind is a complete and utter failure due to its stereotypical depictions, falsifying of life on a plantation, and ignorance of women who may not have succumbed to the social destiny that was ever present in the antebellum South.

One of the worst stereotypical depictions of the film is the idea that women, such as the crybaby that is Scarlett O’hara, did not do any work on the plantation until the Union came through and burned it all down.  Not only is this a wrongful depiction in terms of its villainization of the Union, but also of what women actually did during the Civil War. LeeAnn Whites, author of The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890, refers to this when she states that women were, “forced to take up labor for the first time,” which they continued to do throughout the war.[1]  Unlike in Gone with the Wind, women were not just fiddling around the house or working as a nurse.  They were  struggling to manage their plantations everyday in order to preserve their place in society.

Another misnomer that comes with the iconic movie is the idea of life on the plantation for Southern belles.  Even though my grandmother was a fan of true love stories, most of that is just made for the movies.  As fun as a barbeque at Twelve Oaks may have been, many southern women were not so hopelessly in love and had traumatizing relationships with southern men.  As Laura F. Edwards describes in her Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Southern Women in the Civil War Era, a true rebuttal to the depiction of women in Gone with the Wind, many southern women experienced abusive relationships during the time of the Civil War.  Unlike in the movie where men are constantly swooning over Scarlett and begging to bring her cake and crumpets, some men took their authority of serving their country to a whole new level once they came home. , Edwards uses the example of Marion Singleton, who in her diaries and letters, told the story of her abusive second husband and the struggle it proved to be for her.[2]  Divorces were seen as political and socially demeaning for women and in an age where class structure and racial superiority dominate southern livelihood, women were often stuck, no matter if they were with an Ashley Wilkes or not.

Last but not least is the blunt lie that every single woman in the Confederacy supported the war.  This is best represented in the character of Melanie, or Meli.  She not only puts countless hours into the hospital and house, every remark she says is somehow a euphemism for how Ashley must fight for the cause and how his honor and bravery is serving his country so valiantly.  Even more so, the scene at the barbeque where men are speaking in their own quarters while the women take a nap reaffirms this idea.  However, as Victoria Bynum describes in her Unruly Women Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South, women were not as appeasing as they may appear in the film.  She states, if these women challenged the authority of the Confederacy, the courts reserved the right to take control over the women.[3]  Yet, as Drew Gilpin Faust explains in her Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, these sentiments would allow women to become more vocal and demanding for equal rights after the Civil War ended.[4] Thus, even though Gone With the Wind portrays every woman as being completely supportive of the war, many women internally fought against it and would speak their minds when it came to a close.

Thus, even though I admire Scarlett’s tenacity and ability to speak her mind, in terms of Civil War memory, I can only declare her a primadonna of the nineteenth-century as opposed to a true Confederate wife.

[1] LeeAnn Whites, The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890 (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1995), 8

[2] Laura F. Edwards, Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Southern Women in the Civil War Era (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 3

[3] Victoria E. Bynum, Unruly Women Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 11.

[4] Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), xiii