July 17, 2015

A Woman's Place | Part One: the Union Woman

It might come as a shock to some, but when asked how I would complete the phrase, "A woman's place..." I would not complete it with, "in the home."
I took an unofficial survey of how others would complete the antiquated phrase. One of my favorites was:
A woman's place is...everywhere, history and the present.
And that hits the nail on the proverbial head as to why I'm writing this blog post trilogy of sorts.
**Before continuing, read friendly disclaimer below**
I am not here to debate, rant or say anything negative on this fairly broad subject that yes, involves feminism. The definition of the word is, "The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men." Many have skewed the word, as all humans are wont to do. And also unfortunately many, just like during all of history, still do not see women as equal to men. We live in a sinful world with sinful people in and outside of the church. Men and women are different, unique, and equal. One is not greater or lesser than the other. Hence why I'm writing these posts. The women who got the job done during the Civil War and WWII are equally worthy of honor and recognition as men who served in the military. 


If there was one photo to sum up why I write stories of Northern women during the Civil War, this would be it. 

The lady immortalized in stone is heavy with child. You'll notice a shovel at her side, and she wipes her brow of perspiration. This Angel of Gettysburg was bone-wearied exhausted from digging one hundred and four graves on her own from July 3rd through mid-August 1863.
Meet Elizabeth Thorn, mother to three sons and at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, six months pregnant with her fourth child. Her husband is off at war, and when the war arrives on her doorstep, she does what needs done and lays to rest over a hundred fallen soldiers.
Often called the Angel of Gettysburg, Elizabeth's maternal instinct was most likely at war within her heart. Having three young children of her own, pregnant with another, surely she must have fought the urge to flee from her home in order to best protect her children. But at the same time, beyond the fallen men in need of burial, she had to decide to stay home, defend her home and husband's cemetery, now called Evergreen Cemetery.
Before the war, this inspiring woman's place was in the home. Raising up children, caring for a husband and home. Truly noble tasks. These duties never stopped for her during the war. If anything she had to shoulder much of what her husband took care of, on top of her own responsibilities.
Her place, her energy, her sweat and tears--her sacrificial and hardworking spirit--were called upon to bury other mothers' sons, other women's husbands after the turning point battle of the Civil War.
A war men started. To the chagrin and grief of many a woman.
But they all carried on and did what needed done...on the farmlands of central Pennsylvania, and at the Gateway to the West in my home city of Pittsburgh. 

Pittsburgh was called the Arsenal of the Union due to it's many arsenals, factories and the advantage of three rivers and countless railroads to ship things to the front. Think for a moment about who made the very bullets and cartridges to aid the whole of the Union army. Yes, there were men who unfortunately worked in leadership positions that did not take care of working environments or equal pay for equal work for the countless women and young pre-teen and teenage girls who worked their fingers to the bone. All of these women were poor and needed the money. The Army often sent out their soldiers paychecks to their families quite belatedly, making it further difficult for the women at home to keep body and soul together. 

One event woefully buried beneath the bloodbath of the Battle of Antietam that occurred the same day is the explosion of the Allegheny Arsenal. It's still somewhat a mystery of what caused a spark to spread a fire and cause explosions through the arsenal grounds in Lawrenceville. Around two in the afternoon, the first of three explosions occurred. These explosions shattered glass in windows over two miles away in Pittsburgh. The second and third explosions occurred in close succession, causing the majority of the facility to be reduced to rubble. Seventy-eight workers, almost all women, were killed. Out of these fifty-four were unidentified and buried in a mass grave.

Going into work at an arsenal, these women and girls had to know there would be a slight risk. But women such as these who worked in this arsenal truly gave the last measure of devotion. For their country? Yes. But also for fierce love and sacrifice for their families. They did what needed done. For their own survival, and to help the men at the front. Many of these women were most likely mocked and ridiculed and verbally abused as to doing what was considered a man's job. But their strength kept them working hard in the arsenal, and at home to keep body and soul together with meals, laundry, and their modest homes.

I don't know about you, but these stories inspire me. Not to mention the women who stood up and did something about the disease and unsanitary conditions field hospitals and Army hospitals were in prior to 1862. It took quite a fight--one you can read about in Jocelyn Green's novel, Wedded to War, but when the Sanitary Commission got off the ground, it made a world of difference. Saving lives and making huge strides in medicine and health at the same time!
While widely taken advantage of, unjust pay for the same work--all of these women deserve to be honored and remembered not merely for their patriotism, but for their work ethic, sacrifice and strength. These qualities should be remembered when we think of what a woman's place was during the Civil War.

To the loyal women
Who through four years of war, endured suffering and bereavement.
This tablet is dedicated in grateful recognition of their patriotism
By the men of Pennsylvania
Who served in the Army and Navy of the United States during the War of the Rebellion.