Influence of Women on American History Through the Civil War
The Influence of Women on the Founding of America and Through 1877 Kelley Swatsenbarg Wayland Baptist University – San Antonio Center Mr. Thomas Gaj May 4, 2010 The Influence of Women on the Founding of America and Through 1877 Throughout the many years of history, women have always had some kind of influence over man. Whether it be coercing him, tricking him, or demanding of him, they changed the actions of men. Sometimes it has been completely unintentional; sometimes intentional.
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Sometimes it has been covertly; sometimes overtly. Sometimes it has been the mothers of great men making decisions about their upbringing; sometimes it has been the choices made by female leaders or leaders wives. The United States in no different; women have been influencing, directly or indirectly, the decision and actions of the men in America starting from the choice to fund Christopher Columbus’s misguided exploration. Famous foreign rulers have influence America, from the beginning of the history of the United States.
The first, of course, is the famous Isabella, Queen of Spain, who convinced King Ferdinand to finance Christopher Columbus’s exploration to find a route to Asia by traveling west. Then Elizabeth, Queen of England, decided to try to colonize the Americas to get tax revenue thus causing great numbers of Englishmen to colonize the United States. Some women did what they could within the confines of their traditionally established role of nurturer and were involved in the medical field. Two examples are Susie King Taylor and Mary Edwards Walker.
Susie King Taylor traveled with her husband who was in E Company 33rd United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. She was a former slave who became their nurse, laundress, cook, teacher, and even comforted the sick soldiers even on their deathbed. Mary Edwards Walker was also a Union nurse during Civil War who finally won a commission in the army as a surgeon, and was the only woman to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor. Dorthea Dix helped organize the Union Army Corp of Nurses and was appointed superintendent of the Union nurses.
There was the teacher, Clara Barton, now a famous humanitarian, who, after the outbreak of the Civil War, remained in contact with many former students in the New England Volunteer Regiment that went south. Their mothers gave her gifts for their sons as they thought that she, as a nurse, would be able to get packages to them. She realized that these were not gifts, but rather necessities like soap; from this she created the American Red Cross. She was also a Union nurse who bravely stayed to help surgeons under fire when all the male assistants fled. Some women personally aided soldiers and the underprivileged.
One such woman was Margaret Corbin who traveled with her husband to take care of him during the war, doing woman’s work, but was in a battle with her husband. When he died in battle, she took over the cannon; she was wounded and later received the first retired disability pension for a woman. Some women created inspiration in various forms of literature to give hope to the men of this nation. One was Ethel Lynn Beers who wrote poetry and published a poem she’d titled “The Picket Guard. ” The poem was adapted to music and sung by soldiers on both sides in the Civil War.
Another woman of inspiration is Lydia Maria Child who wrote An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans_ _that was a key to persuading many Americans of the need for abolition of slavery. Some women were acclaimed worldwide, like Catherine Maria Sedgwick, who wrote numerous historical sketches and biographies. Her writing is considered to be completely American in both thought and feeling; it captured the all of the characterx and manners of New England. Another American author was Mercy Otis Warren, the wife of politician, James Warren; the couple had a close friendship with Abigail and John Adams.
John encouraged her to write the history of the American Revolution. Ironically, he ostracized her and her husband because of candid accounts of atrocities against women and children during the war. By far the most famous writer to influence politics was Harriet Beecher Stowe who became a celebrity when she published Tom’s Cabin in 1851 depicting the atrocious lives of black slaves in the South. In 1852 she was introduced to President Abraham Lincoln who greeted her “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War! ” Other women created patriotic symbols which would inspire generations of Americans.
Betsy Ross, operated an upholstery shop, became legendary for making the first stars-and-stripes at the request of George Washington which was adopted as the national flag by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. Another example of a woman who inspired is Julia Ward Howe, a famous writer who wrote the celebrated Battle Hymn of the Republic. Many women inspired men through their patriotic activities. One great patriot that inspired Georgia was their most famous female patriot of the Revolutionary War, Nancy Hart, whose steadfast endeavors get rid of British and their sympathizers.
However the most famous heroic female patriot, in spite of her flaws, is Dolly Madison, the wife of James Madison and acting first lady for Thomas Jefferson. She could have influence them in their politics, but she inspired the masses with her patriot deeds. During her husband’s tenure as president, the British attacked Washington, D. C. She had the foresight to save not only the silver but also secret documents and a portrait of George Washington which would have likely been destroyed. Another patriot was Molly Pitcher, originally named Mary Ludwig Hays.
During the Battle of Monmouth in 1778, she was with her husband on the front lines. Seeing that the soldiers were thirsty, she made her way through ferocious fighting to carry pitchers of water to the artillery gunners, and she even took over her husband’s job as rammer when her husband was wounded and could no longer man the gun mission. Sometimes women invented machines or assisting others in their endeavors to invent. For example, Martha Coston developed an elaborate system of flares called Night Signals that allowed ships to transmit nocturnal messages which was later purchased by the U.
S. Navy. Also, Mary Walton patented a method of deflecting smoke stack emissions through water tanks later adapted the system for use on locomotives and invented a noise reduction system for elevated railroads. On the other hand Catharine (Kitty) Littlefield Greene helped Eli Whitney set up his workshop and was among the few people to see his first prototype of the cotton gin. At the time it was able to remove the seed, but the cotton fibers kept getting stuck in the mechanisms. Kitty simply suggested sweeping the fibers off and the rest, shall we say, is history.
Some women have taken steps out of the boundaries of the traditional role by being the first woman to surpass a man in a particular field. Among these was Lady Deborah Moody who, because of lack of religious freedom, led a group of followers to the Dutch colony of New Netherland where she founded the settlement of Gravesend in Brooklyn. Also because of views about standard religions, Mary Baker Eddy founded Christian Science as well as the six time Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor. Still other women inspired men to think of women as more equal by making the same achievements as men. First there was
Mary Katherine Goddard, the first woman publisher who was asked by the signers of the Declaration of Independence to print the first official copies of the document. There was also Margaret Fuller, the first female foreign correspondent. In medicine, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to graduate from medical school, and Sarah Hackett Stevenson was the first female member of the American Medical Association. Sometimes women influence men by political activism like Harriett Delille who campaigned for children’s labor rights or Ester Deberdt Reed who formed a women’s organization that collected $300,000 for Washington’s army.
Still others campaigned for workers’ rights like Sarah Bagley who fought for a ten-hour workday. Of course now the laws state that a workday must be no longer than eight hours a day or forty hours per week, but we would not have progressed to where we are without her protesting. Others spoke out for women’s rights like Susan B. Anthony, Isabella Stowe Beecher, Lucretia Coffin Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, just to name a few. Yet others spoke out against slavery like Abby Folsom, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Maria Stewart, and Truth Sojourner.
Victoria Woodhull took activism a step further when she became a politician and was the first women to campaign for president of the United States in 1872. Sometimes their influence has simply been by virtue of the fact that they were married to famous men and they have influenced their husbands’ actions. Martha Washington, as we all know, was the wife of President George Washington. She was the first first-lady forming the model for all first ladies to come with her abilities to balance managing a plantation, arranging state dinners and function, visiting troops, and maintaining her relationship with George by supporting and advising him.
Abigail Smith Adams was the wife of Samuel Adam and mother of John Quincy Adams who would later become president. She was his confidant, counselor, and advisor sharing her political views with him and even warning him about future problems including women’s rights. Their son, John Quincy Adams married Louisa Adams. Louisa, the only first lady not born in America, is reputed to have made many social calls to help him get elected. Deborah Read Franklin was the common law wife of Benjamin Franklin. She also took over his responsibilities as owner of a printing business and as postmaster while he was away on diplomatic affairs.
On the other hand, Elizabeth Schuler Hamilton spent her entire life dedicated to memorializing her husband’s heritage. She even ensured a brass plaque was placed on their son’s grave in Sacramento, California dedicated to Alexander’s patriotism. Sarah Livingston Jay would pass valuable information, and gossip, to her husband, John Jay which helped him while he was secretary of foreign affairs – this position was also the head of Congress and thereby the de-facto head of state. Mary White Morris and her husband Robert Morris were close friends of John and Sally Jay, often having many a long political discussion.
While Rebecca Ann Felton, the husband of William Felton, helped him write his speeches while he served as a congressman between 1875 thru 1881. Still other women were simply involved with activities which have influenced domestic politics like, Irene Sanford Emerson who was sued by a former slave, Dred Scott. Mr. Scott traveled with Mr. Emerson while he was in the army stationed in the North; he claimed he had been emancipated as a result of having lived with his master in the free state of Illinois. The court ruled in favor of Mrs. Emerson; Mr.
Scott appealed to the Supreme Court where the decision was upheld, but it set the precedence that blacks had a legal right to file suit in a civil court, as previously blacks were considered property and therefore, like a chair, could not litigate. There were also many Native American women who assisted and acted as diplomats for the settlers and colonists. One was Mary Musgrove, an American Indian interpreter, diplomat, and businesswoman. She was raised by Colonists and, because she knew both languages well, she interpreted for James Oglethorpe when he founded the colony of Georgia.
She also inherited land from her Native American mother, as their tradition was to pass property down the matriarchal line. The English refused to accept the legality of her property ownership and she took them to court. They negotiated and came to a compromise; some of the land was sold by the British with her receiving the proceeds. Then there was Pocahontas, Native American princess who helped the Jamestown settlers by bringing them food and warning them of her father’s attacks.
She was held prisoner by the settlers in an effort to force her father into a peace agreement, but he refused; she eventually converted her to Christianity and married John Rolfe. Because of her position as wife of John Rolfe and daughter of an Indian chief, she was able to maintain peace between the two communities. Sacajawea was another Native American who influenced American politics. She was married to a French man, Toussaint Charbonneau, the guide hired by Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition. Sacajawea went with her husband and interpreted with the Native American Indians.
She would translate to Charbonneau in French and he would translate to Lewis and Clark into English. During her trip she gave birth to a son, and, all the while taking care of him, guided the explorers trough Indian lands, protected them from Indian attacks, kept valuable items from being lost–her husband was a klutz, and even found them food to supplement their all-meat diet. Other women covertly did the jobs of men such as Deborah Champion, a teenage girl who bought parcels, messages and pay to General George Washington when soldiers could not.
Some other messengers were Behethland Moore and Sybil Ogden Ludington, dubbed the “female Paul Revere” (she rode about twice as far as he did on his famous ride). Still other women, like Harriet Tubman–a conductor on the Underground Railroad, acted secrectly. The history of the world abounds with famous female spies like Pauline Cushman, a Union spy, became a camp follower of the Confederate army. She was discover, tried in a military court, and sentenced to hang; they delayed her sentence due to her health and she was rescued by Union forces. Upon her return North, President Lincoln made her an honorary major.
Elizabeth Van Lew was a famous and effective Union spy. She entered the Confederate Libby Prison on the pretense of humanitarian reasons, and, since the guards thought she was harmless and crazy, she gained information about the strength and disposition of the troops. As her work continued, she devised a way to send coded messages inside eggs. Belle Boyd used her feminine wiles to gain secrets and trap Union soldiers. Others posed as soldiers and fought in war. During the Civil War, Ann Clarke dressed as a man in the Confederate army. She was wounded, taken prisoner, and later released.
Prudence Wright gathered a women’s troop and dressed in husbands’ uniforms to defend their city from the British. They captured a British spy and turned him over to the Colonial Army. Deborah Sampson Gannet dressed as man in order to fight in Revolution; her husband received land and was granted the pension of a soldier. During her career she was wounded several times and caught a fever which nearly took her life. If it were not for the fever she would have remained a soldier longer, but a doctor finally discovered her secret, but he did not publicly release the fact, instead he sent her to General George
Washington who immediately discharged her. Then there was the famous story of Sarah Emma Edmonds who enlisted in the Union army as Frank Thompson, a male nurse. She effectively guarded her secret for many years even taking on disguises of men and women, blacks and whites to spy. She left the army for medical treatment in an area where she was unknown, when she did this, Frank Thompson was viewed as a deserter. Afterwards, she fought to be recognized for her achievements, and, with a special act of Congress, she was honorably discharged and given a pension. The Confederacy had plenty of female spies too.
Included in this number is Antonia Ford who passed along to Confederate J. E. B. Stuart information on Union troop activity. Rose O’Neal Greenhow was such a successful spy that she was imprisoned twice, and then exiled to the Confederate states. She was to tour Britain and France as a propagandist for the Confederate cause; her memoirs were published with a wide sale throughout the British Isles. She obtained more and more sympathy for the South. There was also the case of Loreta Janeta Velazquez who enlisted in disguise and served at Manassas/Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh under the name Lieutenant Harry T.
Buford. She also claims to have served as a spy and worked working as a double agent for the Confederacy in the service of the U. S. Secret Service. To this day no one can determine if in fact any of these accounts are true,, although a newspaper report mentions a Lieutenant Bensford arrested when it was disclosed “he” was actually a woman giving her name as Alice Williams. Even in Colonial times America was full of willing female spies and messengers such as Dicey Langston was a teenage colonial spy who forded a river, up to her shoulders, to get details of British troop movement to the colonial army.
And then there was Emily Geiger a messenger for General Greene in the Colonial army. Coming from the direction of Greene’s army, she was suspected and confined to a room. The officer sent for a woman to search her for papers. She sought to destroy the letter; once the door was shut, she ate up the letter, piece by piece. Lydia Darragh was a mortician and would watch British troops from the window of her house. She sent messages about their activities through one of her sons and then to another soldier to get information to Washington’s Army.
British officer Major Andre commandeered her house, but allowed the family to stay in the house. She could then listen in on their plotting and send word of their plans. Others’ influences were merely accidental like Peggy O’Neale Eaton, married Senator John Eaton in 1828 during Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Many gossiped about her colorful past and seeming infidelity with her first husband, when she married Eaton, she shunned by cabinet members’ wives due to her assumed sordid past. The behavior of the ladies towards her and the influence upon their husbands created such a disaster that the cabinet fell apart–Jackson fired them all.
An unintentional influence on men’s actions was Betsy Loring who was General Howe’s mistress; although she was the wife a loyalist, she distracted General Howe by “entertaining” and distracting him from battles with General Washington. The United States of America owes an enormous debt to Mary Ball Washington. She set the example of solid morals and religious opinions, and even read to her children aloud. We need to thank her for one incidentally decision that she made regarding the future of her son. When George was fourteen years old, his half-brother Lawrence obtained a midshipman’s warrant for him in the English naval service.
George was already packed and ready to go, but his mother refused to give her consent at the last minute. So, because of an inadvertent decision, George Washington became the Father of Our Country and our first President instead of an English naval officer. In conclusion, in all nations, including the United States, women have been influencing, either directly or indirectly, the decision and actions of the men. Regardless of whether we believe that changes women have made are good or bad, they have helped define this great nation of ours, and, as the French say, “Viva la difference. Collins, G. (2003). America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Roberts, C. (2004_) Founding Mothers: the Women Who Raised Our Nation. _ New York: HarperCollins Publishers Roberts, C. (2008). Ladies of Liberty: the Women Who Shaped Our Nation. New York: HarperCollins Publishers Taylor, S. K. (2004). The Diary of Susie King Taylor, Civil War nurse. Tarrytown, NY: Benchmark books Zall, P. M. (1991). Founding Mothers: Profiles of Ten Wives of America’s Founding Fathers. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books