10 ways Army women helped make the 19th Amendment possible

| September 2, 2016 | 0 Comments
In March 1776, as her husband, John, served in the Continental Congress, Abigail Adams begged him to "remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors." Of course, the early legislators did forget women, who didn't receive the right to vote until the 19th Amendment passed, Aug. 26, 1920, a day commemorated as Women's Equality Day. (Some states and territories, particularly in the west, gave women voting rights earlier. (U.S. Army Photo)

In March 1776, as her husband, John, served in the Continental Congress, Abigail Adams begged him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” Of course, the early legislators did forget women, who didn’t receive the right to vote until the 19th Amendment passed, Aug. 26, 1920, a day commemorated as Women’s Equality Day. (Some states and territories, particularly in the west, gave women voting rights earlier. (U.S. Army Photo)

Elizabeth M. Collins
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON — In March 1776, as her husband, John, served in the Continental Congress, Abigail Adams begged him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.”

Of course, the early legislators did forget women – who didn’t receive the right to vote until the 19th Amendment passed, Aug. 26, 1920, a day commemorated as Women’s Equality Day. (Some states and territories, particularly in the west, gave women voting rights earlier.)

That amendment passed, in large part, due to the service of women during World War I and every other major war. Although not always in an official capacity or in uniform, women have faithfully served the U.S. Army since 1775.

History has largely forgotten them, but here are 10 examples of their service, from the birth of the nation.

Army contract nurses pose on the deck of the U.S hospital ship Relief during the Spanish-American War. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History)

Army contract nurses pose on the deck of the U.S hospital ship Relief during the Spanish-American War. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History)

1 – Women routinely followed their men to the battlefield. Sometimes wives even took up arms. When Fort Washington on Manhattan Island came under attack in 1776, for example, Margaret Corbin stood at a cannon beside her husband, handling ammunition.

When he was killed, she took his place until she was herself critically wounded, permanently losing the use of her left arm. She then joined an invalid regiment at West Point, New York, cooking and laundering for other wounded Soldiers.

In 1779, Congress authorized a pension for her of half a Soldier’s monthly pay, making her the first American woman to receive a pension as a disabled Soldier.

Corbin died in 1800. In 1926, she was reburied with full military honors at West Point.

2 – Sarah Borginnis (also Bowman) married a Soldier who served in the Seventh Infantry Regiment, becoming a laundress and cook for his unit. She also nursed the sick and injured, emerging as a larger-than-life figure during the Mexican-American War.

Nicknamed “The Great Western” – she reportedly stood 6 feet tall – Borginnis proved fearless. In the midst of a seven-day Mexican bombardment at Fort Texas (later renamed Fort Brown), she shunned the safety of bomb shelters and continued serving meals, loading weapons and patching up wounds even after bullets passed through her bonnet and her bread tray.

Borginnis remained with the Army even after her husband was killed. In 1866, she was laid to rest in the cemetery at Fort Yuma, Arizona, with full military honors.

3 – After years volunteering in hospitals and on the battlefield during the Civil War, Mary Walker was appointed a contract surgeon to the 52nd Ohio Volunteers in 1864. That April, she was captured and imprisoned at the overcrowded and filthy Castle Thunder in Richmond, Virginia, where she became ill and developed vision problems that eventually ended her medical career.

After she was released in a prisoner of war exchange, Aug. 12, 1864, Walker continued serving with the Army. President Andrew Johnson awarded the Medal of Honor to Walker for her “untiring” efforts in 1865.

According to her citation, she “devoted herself with much patriotic zeal to the sick and wounded … to the detriment of her own health, and has also endured hardships as a prisoner of war.”

In 1917, two years before Walker’s death, the Medal of Honor Board removed her name and 911 others from the list of recipients after rewriting the award qualifications. Sixty years later, the Army Board of Corrections posthumously restored her award. She remains the only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor.

Clara "Angel of the Battlefield" Barton is pictured. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the National Archives, via the U.S. Army Womens Museum)

Clara “Angel of the Battlefield” Barton is pictured. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of the National Archives, via the U.S. Army Womens Museum)

4 – Another woman who witnessed immense suffering on the Civil War battlefields was Clara Barton. She began her service volunteering in Washington, D.C., hospitals, visiting the troops and organizing donations of clothing, food and other supplies. Then, she moved to the front lines. The “Angel of the Battlefield,” Barton cared for wounded and dying Soldiers from Antietam, Maryland, to Andersonville, Georgia.

At the end of the war, Clara Barton received thousands of letters from women wanting to know the fate of their husbands and sons. She and her assistants answered more than 63,000 letters and identified more than 22,000 missing men.

Barton founded the American Red Cross in 1881. She later traveled to Cuba and aided Soldiers during the Spanish-American War.

5 – Susie King Taylor (née Baker) left behind a diary of her Civil War service, which began when she escaped slavery and reached Union Army lines in Georgia in 1862. Initially appointed as a laundress with the 33rd U.S. “Colored” Troops, her duties multiplied thanks to her nursing skills and her ability to read and write, which she used to teach freed slaves to read.

Susie King Taylor is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Women’s Museum)

Susie King Taylor is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Women’s Museum)

She married Sgt. Edward King, and she and her husband were mustered out, Feb. 9, 1866. She remained a teacher and later helped organize a branch of the Women’s Relief Corps.

6 – During the Spanish-American War, the War Department quickly realized it needed nurses to care for Soldiers wounded in battle and brought low by tropical diseases. By the end of the war, about 1,500 contract nurses had served in military hospitals, aboard the hospital ship Relief, in stateside camps, the Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

They often worked in primitive, unsanitary conditions, sometimes as battles raged around them. This included almost 250 Catholic nuns, and also about 80 African-American women.

Twenty-one nurses died in the line of duty, mostly from diseases like typhoid and yellow fever. The Army paid the nurses $30 a month plus rations, but the women weren’t granted pensions until 1922.

Women of the National Service School stand in formation prior to World War I. (Courtesy photo)

Women of the National Service School stand in formation prior to World War I. (Courtesy photo)

7 – The National Service School was organized by the Woman’s Naval Service in 1916 to train women in preparation for war and national disaster. The Army, Navy, and the Marine Corps cooperated to train thousands of women, representing practically every state, for national service. Women learned food conservation, military calisthenics and drill, land telegraphy, telephone operating, making surgical dressings and bandages, signal work and many other skills.

8 – With the large number of men called to duty during World War I, 20 percent or more of all workers involved in the manufacture of electrical machinery, airplanes and food were women. Women also came to dominate the formerly male professions of clerical workers, telephone operators, typists and stenographers. Such skills, along with nursing, would be needed both on the home front and on the fighting front in the so-called “War to End All Wars.”

9 – The Army Signal Corps recruited and trained at least 230 telephone operators — “Hello Girls” — for service overseas during America’s involvement in World War I. Many of them served near the front lines in France and came under fire as they performed critical communications duties. Confusion over whether these women should be classified as limited duty Soldiers, contract workers or something else, meant the Hello Girls wouldn’t receive veteran’s status until the 1970s — when only 18 were still alive.

Women inspect .45 automatic pistol parts at Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Plant, Hartford, Connecticut, sometime between 1914 and 1918. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Women inspect .45 automatic pistol parts at Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Plant, Hartford, Connecticut, sometime between 1914 and 1918. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

10 – Some 21,000 Army nurses played a critical role in World War I and the influenza epidemic of 1918, the deadliest pandemic in modern times. About 18 million people died from the flu worldwide, and the virus ran especially rampant on crowded Army posts. More than 200 Army nurses lost their lives because they contracted influenza while caring for patients.

(Editor’s note: Women’s Equality Day was observed Aug. 26th. Special thanks to the U.S. Army Women’s Museum, which provided much of the above information. Other important sources are the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation, the Army Medical Department Office of Medical History and the National Women’s History Museum websites. Additional resources are hyperlinked throughout.) 

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Category: Army News Service, News, Observances

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