Showing posts with label american civil war. Show all posts
Showing posts with label american civil war. Show all posts

Friday, March 1, 2019

Damn, Girl-Mary Walker, Civil War Surgeon

Dr. Mary Walker was a remarkable woman. She was one of the first female doctors in the United States, and served as an army surgeon on the front lines during the Civil War. A dedicated reformer, Mary advocated for universal suffrage, abolition, dress reform, and temperance. She organized a relief system for the wives of wounded soldiers, and wrote two books. She remains, to this day, the only woman to have won the Medal of Honor.

Image result for mary walkerMary was born in Oswego New York on November 26, 1832 to the unusual Alvah and Vesta Walker. (Alvah is the father.) Mary was the youngest of seven children--six girls and one boy. Mary's parents were eccentric for the times. They believed in sharing the work equally, and Alvah could often be found doing household chores. They allowed their daughters to dress however they liked, not forcing them into the restraining corsets and long skirts of the time, which both rightfully believed squished a girl's internal organs. To cap off the unusual Walker family, their home was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Alvah had an interest in medicine, and a sizeable library of medical texts. Alvah and Vesta encouraged Mary to read as many of the medical books as she liked. Both of the Walkers were big believers in education, with Vesta being a school teacher. All of their children were educated through primary school, and all of the daughters went into teaching at one point in their lives.

Mary worked briefly as a teacher, and in 1855 she entered and graduated Syracuse Medical School. Her course at Syracuse was only 39 weeks--three semesters of thirteen weeks each, which seems an almost irresponsible amount of training to give a doctor today, but was standard for the time. Mary chose Syracuse because it admitted women, and because it was known for its non-quackery. In an era where bloodletting and leeches were still common practices, Syracuse focused on more homeopathic remedies, and modern innovations.

After graduation she married her classmate Albert Miller in an unusual ceremony where the bride wore pants, struck the 'obey' clause from her vows, and refused to take her husband's last name. Mary and Albert set up a practice together, and seemed to have been quite successful, with Mary treating the women and children, and Albert the men. Mary began to write about dress reform, and to present medical evidence in favor of this at important conferences. However, in 1859 this all ground to a halt when Mary discovered that Albert had been cheating on her. Mary tossed Albert out, and travelled to Iowa, where it was easier for women to obtain a divorce. Though it took several years, Mary eventually divorced Albert, and began life anew.

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Mary, wearing her controversial bloomers
costume.
After the First Battle of Bull Run,  Mary decided to join the Union Army Medical Corp. She had nothing tying her down--Albert was long gone, her solo practice was a bust, and she had no children. Mary believed that she had a lot to offer as an army surgeon, so she went to Washington DC to ask for a commision.

Unfortunately, the Union Army wasn't accepting female surgeons, or female anything really. Frustrated, Mary decided not to let a lack of pay stop her from doing what she wanted. She instead started volunteering as a nurse at the Patent Office Hospital, working under Dr. J.N. Green. Sources differ about what happened at this point. Some sources say that Dr. Green desperately need an assistant surgeon, and Mary filled that role. Others say that she did basically everything but surgery--dressing wounds, running errands, and entertaining patients. Whatever she did, Mary impressed Dr. Green so much that he recommend that she be given a commission.

This recommendation was, of course, ignored, and Mary briefly went back to medical school in order to boost her credentials. She graduated from Hygeia Therapeutic College, and started volunteering in hospitals up and down Virginia.

Mary was very outspoken about her opinions on how the war should be run. She published editorials suggesting that, in order to boost flagging enlistment numbers, former criminals could be enlisted, and even offered to serve as their surgeon. This gained the attention of war secretary, Edwin M. Stanton, who was definitely not going to create a regiment of former felons, and definitely didn't appreciate a lady having ideas. He gave Mary a posting, if not a commission or salary, to serve as an assistant surgeon with the 52nd Ohio Regiment in Tennessee.

This was on the front lines, and there Mary faced a bit of difficulty. Wandering around a battlefield in skirts and petticoats was a terrible idea, and Mary had never been fond of dressing in typical Antebellum clothing anyways. In fact, she had been arrested several times for dressing like a man, and was frequently harassed for wearing a bloomer costume. On the front lines, Mary abandoned all pretense of dressing like a woman, instead donning a uniform, and making herself a green sash that denoted her as a member of the medical corp.

Mary caused a bit of trouble with the 52nd with her, then, unconventional medical practices. An opponent of amputation, Mary felt that surgeons often rushed the decision to amputate, and that most wounds would be better treated by homeopathic remedies (like bandages and medicines) then amputation. When the male surgeons wouldn't listen to her, she talked directly to the patients, urging them to refuse amputation.

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In her later years, Mary almost
exclusively wore men's clothing.
Unsurprisingly, Mary faced a great deal of misogyny with the Ohio 52nd. Though her commanding officer, George H. Thomas, didn't care that she was female, the male surgeons cared very much. They didn't believe that she was capable of performing her duties as a surgeon, and even arranged a medical 'review' for her skills, which they then failed her on. Despite this, Mary refused to resign, and her commanding officer did not dismiss her. When the other surgeons refused to give her patients, Mary turned to treating civilians.

Deep in Rebel territory, Mary was treating the wives and children of Confederate soldiers, many of whom were in hiding from the Union army. She is reputed to have taken supplies from Union stores in order to treat the unfortunates displaced by the war. It was during this time in 1864 that she was captured by the Confederacy.

Now, there is some debate as to why Mary was captured. Some sources claim that it was because she was wearing men's clothing while being a Union soldiers, but other sources, including US Government Agencies, claim that it was because she was spying for the Union. In 1865 a federal judge put on the record that Mary had been a spy for General Sherman's army. Despite this record, there's some debate over whether or not Mary was up to espionage. However, this historian would like to posit that, while treating Confederate civilians, Mary would have several excellent opportunities for intelligence gathering.

After being captured, Mary was sent to Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond. Castle Thunder was nicknamed 'the Southern Bastille', and not without reason. While in prison, Mary was treated abysmally. She was given only moldy bread and maggot ridden rice. She contracted bronchitis, lost an unhealthy amount of weight, and had to deal with fleas and bedbugs. Her eyesight was permanently damaged by the gas burning lamps in the prison. She would remain at Castle Thunder for four months.

After being released Mary was celebrated far and wide for her heroics in war, even meeting President Lincoln. Edwin Stanton still denied her request for a commission, but she was given $432.26 in backpay, and was officially put on the US Army payroll. She was dispatched first to a women's military prison, then to an orphanage. When the Civil War ended in 1865 Mary was discharged from the army.

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Mary's habit of wearing a top hat did not endear
her to the rest of the suffragettes.
Even after being discharged, Mary continued to lobby for a commision. President Andrew Johnson was in favor of this promotion, but military officials refused to give Mary a commision, fearing that if they gave one woman a commision, all the women would want commissions. Instead, President Johnson gave Mary the Congressional Medal of Honor, making her the only woman to this day to be awarded the honor.

After being discharged, Mary took up work as an activist and reformer. She had some experience with this, having run a relief society for the mother's of wounded soldiers during her time at the Patent Office Hospital. Unaccompanied women who had come to see their wounded sons or husbands were rarely able to find lodging, and Mary organized a society that arranged places for those women to stay. She also, on several occasions, went over enemy lines to retrieve wounded sons or husbands for distraught women.

Upon realizing that the many nurses who had served during the war had received no pay during the war, or pension after, Mary took up their cause, and by 1872 had browbeat Congress into giving the nurses a pension of $20 a month, despite the fact that she herself would not be successful in getting a pension for another two years.

Mary was also active in the suffrage movement, specifically in the area of dress reform. She was arrested several times before and after the war for wearing men's clothing, and was quite proud of the fact. She gave lectures about the negative health effects of constrictive clothing. Because of this she was quite controversial, and other suffragettes didn't want her associated with the cause.

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Mary's Medal of Honor
Mary also took up her pen, publishing two books, Hit in 1871, and Unmasked: or the Science of Immorality in 1878. Both books argue for equality in a marriage, and for temperance and universal suffrage, but it is in Unmasked where Mary really hits hard. In a book as bitingly relevant today as it was when it was written, Mary puts forth the theory that if women could control their sexual urges, men could too. She argues that marriage should be a contract between social equals, and that just because a couple was married didn't mean they were allowed to rape each other.

In 1874, Mary was finally given a pension of $8.50 a month. However, in 1917, her Medal of Honor was rescinded in an act of congress that took medals away from 911 individuals. The reasoning behind this was that the Medal of Honor could only be earned if the wearer had served in combat, which Mary hadn't. Continuing to wear the medal was a misdemeanor, but when a soldier came for her medal, Mary told him that he could take it over her dead body. She wore her award every day until her death.

In 1880 Alvah Walker passed, leaving Mary his farm. Mary spent the rest of her life there, traveling between New York and Washington DC, lecturing and agitating for change. In 1919 she had a fall on the steps of the US Capitol, and died shortly after.

After her death, her family crusaded tirelessly to have her Medal of Honor restored. In 1977, they were successful, and Mary's medal was officially restored to her by President Jimmy Carter. Today, it is on display in the Pentagon.


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Sources
Amazing Women of the Civil War: Fascinating True Stories of Women Who Made a Difference by Webb Garrison
Women of the Blue and Grey by Marianne Monson
Mary Walker-National Parks Service
Meet Dr. Mary Walker--the Only Female Medal of Honor Recipient
Dr. Mary E. Walker
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker
Dr. Mary Walker and the Medal of Honor
Mary Walker-Biography
Mary Edwards Walker
Mary Edwards Walker: Doctor American Civil War Women

     

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Bass Reeves, the Fiercest Lawman in the Old West

Widely considered to be the inspiration behind the fictional Lone Ranger, Bass¹ Reeves lived a larger than life existence of adventure hunting criminals in the old west. One of the first African-American Federal Marshals, Reeves caught more than 3,000 outlaws, all without sustaining a single gunshot wound, or being able to read.

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Bass Reeves, sporting a truly epic
moustache.
Born in 1838, Bass spent the first few years of his life enslaved in the newly minted state of Arkansas. He and his family were owned by William Reeves, a wealthy farmer and popular southern politician. William Reeves eventually decided to relocate to Texas, and Bass was assigned to be a valet to Reeves' son, George. When George went off to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War in 1861, Bass went with him.

Bass' time serving with the Confederacy was brief. Though dates are unsure, it is generally agreed upon that in some point between 1861 and 1862 Bass escaped after an altercation with his master during a card game. From Texas, Bass fled to Indian Country, the land that would later become the state of Oklahoma.

While in Indian Country, Bass became friendly with members of the Seminole, Cherokee, and Creek Nations, learning their languages, tracking techniques, and fighting for the Union with them.

Bass was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and when the war ended in 1865 he married, bought a farm in Arkansas, and proceeded to have ten children. Bass was a successful farmer, but he was more well known for his skill with languages and knowledge of Indian Country. In 1875 he was made a deputy US Marshal, and charged with the responsibility of cleaning up Indian Country.

Indian Country at the time was a pretty lawless place. Because it wasn't under the authority of any state government criminals could only be prosecuted by the federal government, and could only be chased down by federal authorities. While tribes were allowed to organize their own law enforcement, they only had jurisdiction over Native Americans, leaving white and black criminals the responsibility of the harrassed and understaffed US Marshals.

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Isaac Parker, the 'Hanging Judge'. Parker earned
this epitaph from the many criminals he sentenced
to the noose during his vigorous efforts to rid the
West of crime.
In May of 1875 Isaac Parker, later known as 'the hanging judge' was put in charge of a portion of the west that included Indian Country. He authorized the hire of some 200 deputies, and Bass Reeves was one of the top picks. From there he set out on a more than 30 year career that would see him become one of most famous lawmen of the Old West.

Life as a U.S. Marshal was busy. Bass would spend weeks away from his family, hunting down outlaws. When he finally caught his man, Bass would return to the courthouse at Fort Smith. He would spend a few days with his family back in Arkansas, then head back out.

Bass was at something of a disadvantage when it came to crook catching, because, as a former slave, he had never been taught to read. Because of this, he had to have warrants read to him. Bass would memorize the contents of several warrants before heading out on a manhunt. These manhunts could last months, giving Bass ample time to forget the contents of the warrants, but Bass was a sharp cookie. Despite the fact that he had to rely on his memory, he never brought back the wrong man.

There were times when Bass even used his illiteracy to his benefit. It was well known that Bass couldn't read, and there were several instances of Bass being captured by outlaws, and asking them to read him a letter from his wife before they shot him. Bass would take advantage of their moment of distraction to draw a gun on them, and take them in.

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Bass Reeves
Bass was bold and imposing, standing at 6'2, but he was also a master of disguise. A famous story recounts how he disguised himself as a bum, dressing himself in rags and a hat riddled with bullet holes. He came up to a homestead belonging to the mother of two outlaws Bass was hunting. He spun a sad story about how he was being hunted by the marshals, and how they had shot the hat right off his head. Sympathetic, the woman let Bass into her home, and suggested that he should team up with her two sons. Bass agreed, and when the two outlaws came home Bass agreed to join them. However, when everyone was asleep Bass handcuffed the two brothers together. When they woke up the next morning they were angry, but Bass still managed to haul them back to Fort Smith, despite being pursued by the men's irate mother.

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Bass found himself abruptly out of a job. Marshal duties were taken over by the new state government, who did not allow African Americans to serve. Bass joined the Muskogee Police Department, and spent two years as a beat cop. Legend says that there was never a single crime on his beat.

In 1909 Bass was diagnosed with Bright's Disease. He died a few months later in  January of 1910. 

Bass was one of the most effective lawmen of the time. He caught over 3,000 criminals, and it is notable that of that number, he only ever had to shoot fourteen of them. He is widely considered to be the inspiration behind the popular cartoon character, the Lone Ranger, though this has never been confirmed. Either way, Bass remains an Old West legend.


¹Pronounced with a short 'a', like the fish, not with a long 'a' like the musical instrument.

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Sources

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

3 Excellent Transgender Individuals Who Served Their Country

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The transgender pride flag
If you've been watching the news recently you're probably aware that a certain incompetent world leader has been casting aspersions on the ability of transgender people to serve in the military. Obviously I shouldn't be letting this nameless world leader get to me, but I'd reached the end of my rope. In a fit of anger over the aforementioned ignoramus' remarks, I did some digging into the history of transgender individuals in the military, only to find that transgender people have been serving in the American and other militaries from the Revolution on. Here are a few of their stories.

Albert Cashier

Born Jennie Hodgers in 1843, Cashier joined the Union Army at age 19. Born in Ireland, Cashier immigrated to Illinois, where he lived as a man, working as a shepherd for a local farmer. When the Civil War came around, Albert joined the 95th Illinois Infantry.

Now, getting into the army was significantly easier in Albert's day. There was no intense physical, or even a test for infectious diseases. According to Albert, all he had to do was show his hands and feet, and meet the height requirement. Sub-sequentially, the Union army was completely in the dark about Cashier's assigned gender.

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Albert Cashier in his Union Army uniform.
While he was never decorated, Albert Cashier was known for his bravery and daring during the war. During the Siege of Vicksburg Albert was captured by Confederacy soldiers while on a reconnaissance mission. Albert grabbed the gun of his captor, and managed to run back to Union lines. 

After the war, Albert went back to Illinois, where he took up a variety of odd jobs. He lived privately, and kept to himself. In 1910, Senator Ira Lish, Cashier's employer at the time, accidentally hit Albert with his scar. His leg broke, and when he was taken to the doctor, his secret was discovered. However, Albert persuaded the doctor and the senator to keep quiet, and the senator arranged for him to relocate to the Soldier's and Sailor's Home, where he would be looked after.

In 1914, Cashier, suffering from dementia, was sent to the state asylum. It was only then that Cashier's assigned gender became widely known. The US government tried to convict him of fraudulently collecting a veteran's pension, but his comrades defended him, stating that Albert Cashier was a brave soldier who had every right to call himself a veteran. His comrades convinced the US government to back off, but were unable to convince the state asylum to let Albert continue to live as a man. After discovering Albert's assigned gender, the state asylum relegated him to the women's quarter, and forced him to wear skirts for the first time in 50 years. Albert's mental and physical health rapidly deteriorated, and ended up breaking a hip after tripping over his long skirts one day. The hip grew infected, and Albert died soon after.

Though he was forced to dress as a woman at the end of his life, Albert Cashier was buried in his Union Army uniform, and is listed as 'Albert Cashier' on his tombstone. He received full military honors at his funeral.

James Barry

Probably born Margaret Ann Bukeley, James Barry was one of the first surgeons to perform a Cesarean section where both the mother and the child lived. He insisted on hospital reform, prison reform, and certifying all medical practitioners. I'd say he was the surgeon version of Florence Nightingale, except the pair absolutely despised each other, and the comparison would undoubtedly infuriate both of them.

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A contemporary painting of Barry.
Not much is known about Barry's early life. It is likely that he was born to a pair of Irish immigrants. His mother was sister to the original James Barry--a famed Irish painter, and they lived with Barry until his death in 1806. In 1806 with the help of the money left to him by his uncle, and help from his powerful friend, David Stuart Erskine, the Duke of Buchanan, Barry was able to enter medical school at Edinburgh University under the assumed name of his dead uncle.


Despite the fact that everyone thought he was too young to be a doctor, Barry joined the army as a surgeon in 1813. In 1816 (or 1817), Barry was sent to Cape Town, South Africa, where he would really start to make his mark.

Appalled at the conditions, James insisted on finding a way to bring clean water into the city. He insisted on hospital cleanliness for both white and black patients, pushed for prisoners to be treated humanely, and insisted that the families of both soldiers and prisoners be treated better. He drew the ire of the local medical establishment when he insisted that every doctor and nurse pass a medical examination. His reforms led to the Cape Town hospitals being some of the safest in the British Empire, as well as him being promoted to the medical equivalent of a Brigadier General.

Barry in 1862
Barry was widely unpopular, and it wasn't just because of his strict perfectionism when it came to medicine. He also had a notoriously short temper, and was insubordinate to his superiors. He challenged multiple people to a duel because they called him short, and during the Crimean War he publicly berated Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing, for her attire. However, Barry was able to get away with this because he was a brilliant surgeon and hospital administrator.

He left Cape Town after being accused of a scandalous affair with Lord Charles Sommerset. From South Africa Barry went to the West Indies, then to Canada, not returning to England until 1859. He died in 1865, and, despite his request that he be buried in his clothing, and body not be washed the woman who prepared him for burial found out that James Barry had not been born a man.

James Barry is often counted among the great women doctors of history, despite the fact that Barry referred to himself as a man, and made no indication that he was female from the time he entered medical school. Barry exclusively referred to himself as male, and there is no evidence suggesting that he wasn't.

Roberta Cowell

Roberta, born Robert, Cowell is most noted for being the first transgender person to undergo the sex change surgery from male to female, but in addition to that she was a pilot in WWII, flying Spitfire and Tiger Moth airplanes.

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Roberta Cowell
Unlike Albert and James, Roberta's military service was undertaken while she still presented as the gender she was assigned at birth. Cowell expressed the sentiment that she did not develop her feeling and coming to terms as being transgender until after the war.

From an early age, Roberta showed an interest in planes and cars. She attended London University, earning a degree in engineering. In 1941 Roberta joined the Royal Air Force, despite the fact that she often got motion sickness when flying. Roberta flew several different missions into occupied Norway and France. In 1944 her plane was shot down, and she was captured by the Germans. She spent the last five months of the war as a prisoner.

After the war, Roberta returned home to her wife and children. She built up a semi-successful business, and was an avid road racer. However, she began to feel depressed and purposeless. After seeing psychologists for three years, Robert decided to leave her family, and transition from male to female.

 In Summation

This is, obviously, in no way a complete list of amazing transgender people who have served in their country's military, there are many, many more. It is important to remember these people's contributions, and to remember that transgender people have contributed militarily to their countries just the same as cisgender people have. History is important, because it gives us the ability to make connections with and better understand the present. I hope that you'll keep Cashier, Barry, and Cowell's stories in mind, and stand up for them and the hundreds of thousands like them next time your transphobic uncle comes around for dinner, and take a moment to educate your friends and family about the excellent contributions trans people have made to their countries.

Sources
Albert Cashier's Secret
Jennie Hodgers, aka Private Albert Cashier
Jennie Hodgers
Remembering Albert Cashiers, Illinois' Civil War Hero, and Transgender Trailblazer
Albert D. J. Cashier: Woman Warrior, Insane Civil War Veteran, or Transman?
The Extraordinary Secret Life of Dr. James Barry
Dr. James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time
Secret Transgender Victorian Surgeon Feted by Historic England Society
Dr. James Barry and the Specter of Trans and Queer History
A Note on Dr. James Barry
The True Story Behind Britain's First Transgender Woman
Forgotten Women: The Life and Death of Roberta Cowell
'It's easier to change a body than change a mind': The Extraordinary Life and Lonely Death of Roberta Cowell
The Incredible Story of the Spitfire Pilot Who Became a Woman, And Fell In Love With The Female Student Who Became a Man (title is misleading, but the article contains good information about Roberta.)
Sex Change Spitfire Ace