When history textbooks covered the American Civil War, they left out this amazing fact about how women disguised themselves as men to join in on the action. That’s pretty typical of textbooks, right? Well, the cat’s out of the bag now because historians DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook have recorded more than 250 documented accounts of women who fearlessly served as soldiers for both the Union and Confederate armies while incognito. These accounts are chronicled in Blanton and Cook’s book They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War.
There were several motives: patriotism, love (to stay near a lover, husband, relative, etc.) and personal economy. An army private’s salary was thirteen dollars a month which was almost double the wages of most jobs available for women at the time.
The demographic of the women who went to battle included immigrants, those below the poverty line, farm hands and the working class. Blanton and Cook would contend that the prospect of earning a decent sum of money enabled women to feel empowered by seizing the right to unprecedented socioeconomic opportunities.
Most women were never found out because the troops seldom bathed and frequently slept clothed, so nudity was hardly an issue. Moreover, the poorly fitted uniforms helped tremendously in keeping the women disguised as men—pregnant women were even part of the ranks and often frightened their male counterparts when it came time to deliver. [via Brain Pickings]
When men started catching on to the women’s masquerade, the women were discharged from the army for reasons such as, “sexual incompatibility,” “congenital peculiarities” or “unmistakable evidence of being a woman.” (In regard to the last reason, I can’t help but think of Disney’s Mulan since the protagonist also dressed up as a man to fight for her country.)
Lovelies, what other little known facts about history would you want to share?