In 1861, women had few opportunities for employment: nurse, teacher, or governess, but some women wanted to fight for their country. Between 250 and 1,000 women disguised themselves as men and fought as soldiers during the American Civil War, during which they had more freedom than they would for the next century. Civil War expert David Decker posits that these women soldiers played an important role in the women's rights movement. At first, these women soldiers were scorned, but by the 1900's, they were praised, especially in their obituaries. With an accompanying PowerPoint slide show, Mr. Decker will provide biographical sketches of heroic women who served for both the north and the south. These women joined the army usually seeking adventure or out of patriotism or a desire to be with a brother or a husband, often staying with their units after a husband was killed in action. They volunteered in all capacities and even served as officers, demonstrating equality with men in their fighting ability and bravery in the midst of battle. When pregnant, ill, or wounded, they were frequently discovered and sent home, although some stayed with their units as nurses, laundresses, or spies.
Only in the last two decades have women achieved the same amount of freedom and opportunity in the military as they had in the Civil War.
Disguised as a man (left), Frances Clayton served many months in Missouri artillery and cavalry units. (Photos courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library)
The Women Who Fought in the Civil War on the Smithsonian at
Women Soldiers of the Civil War on Prologue Magazine in the National Archives at