Women Were There

The Wars of 1812 and 1846 and the Spanish American War

The War of 1812

The USS CONSTITUTION met and defeated HMS GUERRIERE, the first in a grand succession of victories in the War of 1812. It was during this ferocious battle that the seamen, astonished at the way the British cannonballs were bouncing off the Constitution's hull, cried out -"Her sides are made of iron!" Thus, her nickname,"Old Ironsides." seal

What was not known at the time was the fact that a U.S. Marine, serving aboard Old Ironsides, as George Baker, was actually Lucy Brewer. Eventually the Marine Corps reluctantly acknowledged that Lucy Brewer was perhaps the very first woman marine. Here's the way the Historical Division of the USMC tells the Lucy Brewer story:

"No compilation of legends would be complete without mention of Lucy Brewer. A farm girl from Massachusetts, Lucy Brewer was the legendary first woman Marine. The War of 1812 was raging when Lucy arrived at Boston. Friendless in the strange city, she met a woman who seemed eager to take a stranger into her home. Lucy was surprised that one woman could have so many daughters, but she soon discovered that home was just a house. Unsuited to a life of sin, Lucy fled her benefactress, donned men's clothing, and found refuge in the Marine Corps. No one discovered she was a woman, and as a member of the "Constitution's" Marine guard, she saw action in some of the bloodiest sea fights of the war. Her exploits came to light when she published an autobiographical account of her experiences. She described her heroism in the major battles of the "Constitution" with such details as manning the fighting tops as a marksman, taking toll of the British with musket fire. True or not, the story of Lucy Brewer makes a wonderful addition to the colorful legends about the Marine Corps."

It would be over one hundred years before the Marine Corps seriously began to recruit women - August 1918 - to be specific.

Mexican American War - 1846

Sarah Borginis:
Mrs. Borginis and a Mrs.Foley enlisted with their husbands into the 8th calvary at the Jefferson Barracks, Mo. Sarah became the principal cook at Fort Brown (Fort Texas) and stayed on the job when General Taylor moved most of his troops to the mouth of the Rio Grande. However, when the Mexicans began bombarding Fort Texas, (Fort Brown) from their positions at Matamoros, she was isssued a musket. It's said she took an active part in the ensuing fray, never missing a target or preparing a meal. Gen. Zachary Taylor breveted her to colonel, making her the first female colonel of the U.S.Army. She moved to El Paso and opened a hotel. For years it was a favorite stop of '49ers heading for the California gold fields. She later moved to Arizona and ran a Yuma saloon until her death in 1866. Col. Borginis was buried at Fort Yuma with full Military Honors - the first woman to be a ranking U.S.Army officer - albeit a brevet one.

The Spanish American War

In 1898 when Teddy went charging up San Juan Hill, after the Battleship Maine blew up in Havana Harbor, sanitary conditions for the wounded soldiers were deplorable. There were typhoid fever epidemics in the camps and few qualified medical personnel. Congress quickly authorized the U.S. Army to procure female nurses but not with military status. They were hired as civilians under contract and over one thousand women were recruited to serve - for thirty dollars a month.
From 1898 to 1901 more than 1500 women served in the states, overseas, and on a U.S. Hospital ship.

For more images of nurses in the Spanish American War visit History ANC

Ellen May Tower of Byron, Michigan was the first U.S. Army nurse to die on foreign soil, of typhoid fever, in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War, and was the first woman to receive a military funeral in Michigan. Ellen Tower
nurse maass
Spanish American War Nurse Clara Maass died as a result of yellow fever. Army Contract Nurse Maass volunteered to participate in an experimental treatment program,after having survived the war. A stamp was issued in her honor in 1976.

Famous Sharpshooter Annie Oakley deserves mention for her interest in the Spanish American War
- find out why here: Annie Oakley and War

Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee was instrumental in the recruiting of these women and continued to argue for nurses as a permanent part of the military. When Dr. McGee became Acting Assistant Surgeon General in charge of a new Nurse Corps Division she drafted the necessary legislation to begin the process of giving nurses some sort of military status. Yet they had no rank, equal pay, or benefits. Women in the miltary still had a long way to go.

Before WWI the status of women in government was pretty much relegated to this:

But things were beginning to change.....

More about women in war: World War One Women

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Unless otherwise noted contents © 1996 to date by Captain Barbara A. Wilson, USAF (Ret)