Civil War Nurse Who Outranked General

For those who prefer to read, here’s the text of the video.

Mary Ann Bickerdyke, Civil War Nurse
Mary Ann Bickerdyke, Civil War nurse

I love Mary Ann Bickerdyke for her fierce devotion to the soldiers she called “her boys.” As a Civil War nurse, she was a particular favorite of the soldiers.

Bickerdyke set up more than 300 field hospitals for soldiers and made sure they were clean in an era when many wounded died of contagious diseases. She gathered nutritious food and medicines for them and set up laundries, often finding that their clothing was in rags.

Nineteen times she accompanied troops to warfare, going with a lantern at nightfall to take wounded men off the battlefield.

Mother Bickerdyke, as the men called this Civil War nurse, had no patience with officers who didn’t treat their men right. One morning when a surgeon was late because of a drinking spree, she called for his discharge. When he protested about her to General Sherman, the general replied, “Well, if it was her, I can do nothing for you. She ranks me.”

In my Civil War era novel The Truth About Daniel, Annie Anthony works with a local chapter of the Sanitary Commission to supply soldiers with sewing kits called “housewives,” because it helped them to repair their own clothing.

Great American Women of Susan B.’s Era

Susan LaFlesche Picotte was the first Native American woman to receive a medical degree.

During Women’s History Month we will use this space to celebrate several great American women who were comrades of Susan B. Anthony. (Click here for an earlier blog post on Women’s History Month.)

Though Miss Anthony did not know all of them, each one came from her era and worked to make us a more equitable and just nation. We have far to go to complete the reforms they championed, but knowing of their work can help us go and do likewise whenever we have a chance.

 

Today we remember Dr. Susan LaFlesche Picotte as one of these great American women.  She traced her desire to study medicine to an experience at the age of eight. Young Susan LaFlesche kept vigil at the bedside of a Native woman while waiting for a (white) doctor who promised to come, but never arrived. The patient died. In those dark moments, Susan realized that Natives needed doctors devoted to their care. Rather than lament the lack, she became one.

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Women Whalers

It’s been awhile since we’ve spoken of Annie Osborn Anthony, daughter of a whaling captain from Martha’s Vineyard and eventually the wife of Daniel Read Anthony. Today’s post references her sister-in-law Lucy Hobart Osborn, who will represent dozens of women who accompanied their husbands in worldwide voyages in search of whales.

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The Lady Who Made This Big War

That is how Abraham Lincoln is said to have greeted Harriet Beecher Stowe when he met her many years after the publication of her shocking 1852 bestseller Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which gave slavery a face and a heart by telling it through the eyes of individuals. Read about Harriet, her book and its amazing success by clicking here.Even more popular than the book itself (which had sales in the 19th century second only to the Bible) were the stage renditions of her play.

It is probable that the Anthonys of Rochester and the Osborns of Marthas Vineyard were familiar with Stowe and her work. Harriet’s family of origin moved in the same abolitionist circles as the Anthonys. And Josiah Henson, the man who upon whom Harriet based her novel, made a notable appearance at the Methodist Camp Meetings that were held every summer on Martha’s Vineyard; the Osborns would likely have seen the publicity. In addition, the stage rendition of her story was one of the most popular theatrical renditions of its era.

Of her most famous book, Stowe said:

As a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity–because as a lover of my country, I trembled at the coming day of wrath.

For another look at her family, her other literary works, and her later years, visit the website of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center.

Vineyard Woman with Nerves of Steel

Today’s heroine for Women’s History Month is Beulah Vanderhoop of Martha’s Vineyard, a maritime conductor on the Underground Railroad in the 1850s. She had the courage it took to assist as many as eight ex-slaves to safety and in my novel, profoundly affected Annie Osborn of Edgartown.
Though Vanderhoop is firmly grounded in history, the details about her are many and somewhat conflicting. Depending on which account you believe, she was either full or half Wampanoag, a member of the Native American tribe who populated the Island long before white settlers. In a custom not uncommon on the Vineyard, she was married to an African-American from Surinam.

Vanderhoop is the woman elsewhere identified by The Vineyard Gazette’s September 29, 1854 account of two women coaxing Randall Burton out of a swamp near Holmes Hole (now Vineyard Haven) and taking him to her home on Gay Head (now Aquinnah)—a distance of some 15 miles; another account says that he was brought to her home on the Wampanoag settlement at the furthest reach of the island. One version has her sailing him six miles across Vineyard Sound to New Bedford, while another suggests that another tribal member did it.

Beulah welcomed Burton into her home and fed him. One can imagine his appetite after being nearly starved hiding for months in a Florida swamp, stowing away on board a north-bound ship for at least five days, and then hiding in the Vineyard’s swamp for three days. All accounts agree that his enjoyment of his meal was short-lived, however, for the pro-slavery sheriff did his best to gather a posse, paying $1 to every man who would help him hunt and recapture the fugitive.

Though the sheriff wanted to search the Wampanoag homes, he had to leave the settlement empty-handed and come back six hours later with a warrant. That delay was enough for some of the Natives to arm themselves with guns, pitchforks, and clubs against the sheriff’s return and for others to undertake the arduous crossing of Vineyard Sound and Buzzard’s Bay, which can involve difficult headwinds and dangerous shoals. For a modern account of such a crossing, as well as some beautiful photos, click here.

True to form, some accounts say that Burton moved on to Canada, while others say that he remained for seven years gainfully employed in New Bedford, just across the Sound from the Vineyard. Personally, I like the one that says that every year he visited Beulah to thank her.

Photo by Jeanne Gehret

When Susan Retired Her Red Shawl

Today we commemorate the death of Susan B. Anthony.

According to Susan’s official biography, it was said that Washingtonians marked spring each year with two signs:  the return of Congress to the nation’s capital and the return of Miss Anthony in her red shawl to lobby Congress.

In her later years, the shawl was such a beloved trademark that when she stepped up on stage without it one day the newsmen ribbed her that they would not file their stories unless she wore it. She sent someone back to the hotel to fetch it. Only death could stop the indefatigable Anthony.

In 1906 (her 86th year), after making an earlier-than-usual visit to the capital, she contracted pneumonia and died at home on March 13. On her deathbed, she seemed to greet a parade of famous comrades with whom she had worked for universal suffrage. Together, they had labored long and hard and accomplished much, not only for women but for African-Americans. Still, the most precious right of female suffrage eluded her. Holding up her pinkie, she said to her lieutenant, Anna Howard Shaw, “Just think of it, I have been striving for over sixty years for a little bit of justice no bigger than that, and yet I must die without obtaining it.  Oh, it seems so cruel.”

The following is an excerpt from the New York Evening Journal’s testimonial upon Susan’s death:

No wrong under which woman suffered was too great for her to dare attack it, no injustice too small to enlist her pity and her attempt to remedy it.

She saw the tears of the slave mother with the child torn from her arms…and she was foremost among those who fought for freedom for the negro.

She saw women with great intellects starving for knowledge, and she fought to open the avenues of education to them. She saw the poverty of the sweat shop women..and she fought to better the conditions under which they worked. She saw the honor of the girl-child made the plaything of the debauchee, and she fought for laws for her protection. She saw the woman working by the side of the man for half the salary, and she fought for equal pay for equal work. She saw the intelligent, educated, tax-paying woman of the country classed by the law with the idiot, the criminal and the insane, and she died fighting, with her face to the foe, to have this monstrous injustice removed.”

Ida Husted Harper, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, vol III. Indianapolis: Hollenbeck Press, 1908

Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian

Women hold up half the sky

Women hold up half the sky

You may know how these American women hold up half the sky:

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton
  • Susan. B. Anthony
  • Lucretia Mott
  • Elizabeth Van Lew*
  • Clarina Howard Nichols*
  • Lucy Stone*

Elizabeth Blackwell.* Clara Barton.* Elizabeth Ann Seton.* Antoinette Brown Blackwell.*

(Names with asterisk are identified below)

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