Maryland Women in the Civil War

Women in the Border State of Maryland Many Maryland women made significant contributions to the Union war effort. As a border state having both slaves and free African American women, Maryland was divided in sentiment between the Union and the Confederacy. The most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman was also an escaped slave from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Harriet Tubman also served as a Union nurse and spy, and she was the first woman to lead an armed expedition. In June 1863, she guided three steamboats around Confederate mines in the waters surrounding Port Royal, South Carolina in the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves. Anna Ella Carroll played a significant role as advisor to…

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Delia Bacon

Woman Who Thought Shakespeare Was a Fraud Delia Bacon was an American author and playwright who is best know today for her theory that William Shakespeare’s plays were actually written by a group of British men, including Francis Bacon (no relation), Sir Walter Raleigh and others. Early Years Delia Salter Bacon was born on February 2, 1811 on what was then the frontier in Tallmadge, Ohio, the daughter of a minister, who left New Haven for the wilds of Ohio in pursuit of a vision. In 1817 her father went bankrupt and the family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, and her father died soon after. All six children were promptly farmed out to friends of the family. Delia was lucky enough…

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African American Women Spies

Black Women Intelligence Agents in the Civil War Other than a very few famous African American women spies, little is known about the black women who gathered intelligence for the Union during the Civil War. We do know that some were former slaves and others were free women who volunteered to spy on the Confederacy, often at great risk to their own personal safety. Image: Unidentified African American Woman Escaped slaves served as a primary source of intelligence for the Union Army. Throughout the official records of the war, however, there are frequent references to bits of intelligence coming from contrabands, a term that dates back to early 1861 at Fort Monroe, Virginia. General Benjamin Butler refused to return three…

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Jane Colden

Colonial America’s Woman Botanist In the early eighteenth century only a few women in England and the American colonies were involved in any field of science. Those few were usually related to a man who worked in the field. Jane Colden (1724-1766) was introduced to botany by her father, and became the first woman botanist in America. Jane Colden was born in New York City on March 27, 1724, the daughter of New York physician, governor and botanist, Cadwallader Colden, who learned about the use of plants for medicinal purposes as part of his education in Scotland.

Elizabeth Todd Edwards

Sister of Mary Todd Lincoln In October 1839, twenty-year-old Mary Todd moved to Springfield, Illinois to live with her older married sister Elizabeth Todd Edwards. As was the custom, Elizabeth served as Mary’s guardian. Despite their sometimes rocky relationship, Elizabeth rescued Mary Todd Lincoln from an insane asylum in 1875, and gave her a home. Image: Elizabeth Todd Edwards and Mary Todd Lincoln Elizabeth Todd was born in 1816 in Lexington, Kentucky. Her sister Mary was born on December 13, 1818. Their mother Eliza Parker Todd died of a post-birth bacterial infection in 1824. Fourteen months later, their father Robert Todd married Elizabeth Humphreys. Over the next 15 years, nine half-siblings joined the family. Mary did not get along with…

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Rebecca Gratz

Jewish American Philanthropist and Educator Rebecca Gratz helped establish several major charities for women, children and Jews in Philadelphia. According to legend, Washington Irving so vividly described Gratz to Sir Walter Scott that he was inspired to use her as the model for the Jewish maiden Rebecca in his novel Ivanhoe (1819), who chose to remain a spinster rather than marry a man of another faith. Image: Rebecca Gratz by Thomas Sully This portrait was painted in 1831 when Rebecca was 50, and was passed down through the family of Sara Gratz Moses, the daughter of Rebecca’s sister Rachel who died in childbirth when Sara was five. Rebecca Gratz was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 4, 1781, a middle…

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Diaries of Civil War Nurses

Volunteer Nurses: Forgotten Heroes of the Civil War At the beginning of the war, women in all walks of life saw the need for nurses and simply showed up at military hospitals. A few of the more famous nurses kept a written record of their experiences, including Hannah Ropes, Jane Stuart Woolsey, Kate Cumming and Katharine Prescott Wormeley. Some are merely names on lists in dusty government archives; others we will never know. Backstory In April 1861, Dorothea Dix and a hastily assembled group of volunteer female nurses staged a march on Washington, demanding that the government recognize their desire to aid the Union’s wounded. Secretary of War Simon Cameron quickly named Dix to superintend the women nurses assigned to…

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Mary Gove Nichols

Author and Leader in the Health Reform Movement Though little known today, Mary Gove Nichols was once one of the most influential women in America, a radical social reformer and pioneering feminist who preached equality in marriage, free love, spiritualism, the health risks of corsets and masturbation, the benefits of the water cure and the importance of happiness. Image: Mary Gove Nichols, as drawn by her daughter Elma Gove, 1853 Mary Neal was born on August 10, 1810 in Goffstown, New Hampshire. In 1822 her favorite older sister died and the family moved to Craftsbury, Vermont. Mary’s education came in spurts in various small town schools, but she was a voracious reader and by her teens she was writing stories…

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Myra Bradwell

A Pioneer in American Law Myra Bradwell, a publisher and political activist, almost became the first woman lawyer in Illinois. Though she never practiced law, she became one of the most influential people in the legal profession, and paved the way for future women lawyers. Through her publication, the Chicago Legal News, she initiated many important legal and social reforms. Early Years Myra Colby was born on February 12, 1831 in Manchester, Vermont, the youngest of five children of Eben and Abigail Willey Colby. Shortly after Myra’s birth, the family moved to Portage in western New York, where they lived until 1843. They then moved to Shaumberg, Illinois, near Chicago. She attended finishing school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and completed her…

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Sarah Pugh

19th Century Abolitionist and Feminist Sarah Pugh (1800-1884) was a dedicated teacher who founded her own school and devoted her life to the abolition of slavery and advancing the rights of women. She was co-founder and leader of the influential Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, a women’s group open to all races. Born in Virginia in 1800, Sarah Pugh moved to Philadelphia at the age of three when her father died, and spent her life in that city. She attended Westtown boarding school for two years, and in 1821 began teaching at the Friends School of the 12th Street Meeting. When the Quakers split the Hicksite and Orthodox factions, Sarah resigned and started her own school, which she ran for most…

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