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SARAH ROSETTA WAKEMAN (1843 – 1864) Female Soldier in the Civil War

In American History, Biography, Civil War, Female Soldiers, Feminists, History, People, Trivia, U.S. Army, Uncategorized, women on June 28, 2010 at 9:24 PM

Female Soldier in the Civil War

The lyrics to the Four Seasons’ song “Walk like a man. Talk like a man,” would have been good advice for Sarah Rosetta Wakeman.  Since she was a girl, she didn’t come by that naturally.  But learning how to do just that gave her a purpose and an adventure way beyond the family farm in Chenango County, New York.

By the time Wakeman was 17 years old, she had had some schooling, but  it was necessary for her to work as a domestic to help support her eight younger siblings and help her father pay off his debts.  Her future wasn’t looking too bright, so she decided that dressing like a man would increase her options.

When she was 19 she donned her disguise and worked as a coal handler on a barge on the Chenango Canal.  For four trips, she made $20.  At the end of her first trip she met some soldiers who tried to recruit her to sign up with the 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers.  She had three more river trips to think about it and decided that the $152 signing bonus for enlisting was too tempting. 

 PRIVATE LIVES                                                                                                            Wakeman changed her first name to Lyons and lied about her age, instantly maturing to 21 years old.  The rest of the information on her regimental descriptive roll was true: five feet tall with a fair complexion, brown hair, blue eyes and the occupation of “boatman.”  Wakeman’s gender was probably accepted at face value because of the cursory physical examination soldiers were given at the time of enlistment, often nothing more than a firm handshake.  Since there were a lot of pre-adolescent boys that edged their way into both the Confederate and Federal forces, it wasn’t unusual to have beardless recruits with higher pitched voices.

In corresponding with her family, Wakeman initially signed her letters “Rosetta,” confident her secret would not be detected.  She described army life and inquired about life back home.  She promised her father she would send money from her $13 a month salary for him to buy food and clothes for the family.  Unfortunately, she had to explain later that she had naively lent it to the first lieutenant and sergeant and received a promissory note in return for the whole amount including interest.  She sheepishly admitted that she had been taken advantage of by these officers and that she had learned her lesson. 

About three months into her military career, Wakeman got the measles and was hospitalized for seven days.  There didn’t seem to be any lasting effects of the disease, and she often expressed how much she enjoyed being a soldier, in contrast to her life on the farm. She had good clothes, enough food and no responsibilities except to handle a gun.

 AN EASY JOB                                                                                                                          In July 1863, the 153rd Regiment moved from Alexandria, Virginia to Washington, D.C.  to help protect the capital against potential riots in connection with the newly instituted draft.  Wakeman appreciated the spacious barracks, the well water for drinking and the salty river water for bathing.  She complained that Colonel Edwin Davis was so strict that the soldiers were hoping to be sent to the front lines, away from his command.

A month later, Wakeman was assigned to guard the prison that housed Rebel prisoners and officers.  With easy duty and a comfortable environment, she felt invincible.  She didn’t believe it was possible for her to die in battle, but if that was God’s will, she would submit to it.  She reminded her parents that she was “as independent as a hog on ice.”

In October, Wakeman reported that her days were filled with drilling exercises: company drill in the morning and battalion drill in the afternoon.  She enjoyed doing them and was proud that she could drill as well as any man in her regiment, and definitely better than the soldier in Company C who fell down, got a bayonet in his leg and “bled like a stuck hog.”

Home was feeling increasingly distant, and Wakeman stopped believing she would ever see her family again.  This spurred a confession that she had sinfully given in to lots of temptations in the army.  She admitted to getting into one fight, and after Stephen Wiley hit her, she gave him three or four good punches in return, putting him in his place.  God’s spirit had since worked in her, she believed, and she prayed that she wouldn’t go astray again.

FIGHTING THE ENEMY                                                                                              With the new year came new orders, and finally the 153rd was going to see some action.  They left Washington on February 18, 1864 and marched to Alexandria, Virginia.  From Alexandria they continued on to New Orleans, finally settling at Camp Franklin in Algiers, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River. 

Wakeman’s regiment fell under the command of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks.  His mission was to establish a strong Union presence in Texas, and he planned to follow the Red River north to Shreveport, near the Texas border.  An order went out saying that no women (nurses, laundresses, officers’ wives, etc.) would be allowed to accompany the command except by written authority from Headquarters. The commanding officers still had no idea that at least one member of the rank and file was in direct defiance of that order.

Wakeman’s group marched 16 days, over 300 miles, making stops to unload supplies.  When they encountered Confederate forces lying in wait, the two-day Battle of Pleasant Hill ensued.  On the second day, Wakeman was in the front lines under fire for four hours, until the fighting was halted by darkness. She spent the entire night lying on the battle field listening to the cries of the wounded and dying. 

Wakeman’s life was spared, but the Federal troops were still in danger.  On April 21, 1864, General Banks ordered a forced march totaling over 100 miles back to Alexandria with the enemy on their tails.  Two days into the march, Wakeman’s brigade was ordered to lie along the river and wait for the opportunity to attack Confederate forces.  As the enemy came closer and surrounded them, the only way out was to fight. Wakeman’s group charged the enemy and defeated them.  The next morning, the regiment continued back to Alexandria only to get lost in the woods.  Exhausted, they finally arrived there on April 25. 

Wakeman had proven herself a worthy soldier, but her prediction about not coming home came true.  She was admitted to the hospital on May 3 with chronic diarrhea, the most deadly disease of the Civil War.  She was sent to the Marine U.S.A. General Hospital in New Orleans on May 7 but didn’t arrive until May 22.  Thanks to a Rebel attack which destroyed river transportation downstream of Alexandria, access on the Mississippi River was shut off for over a week.  Wakeman was 21 years old when she died one month later on June 19.  There is no record of any hospital staff discovering her real identity, and she was given a soldier’s burial in New Orleans.

QUESTION:  In today’s society, is it easier to be a man or a woman?  Why?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Wakeman, Sarah Rosetta (Lauren Cook Burgess, ed.).  An Uncommon Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, alias Pvt. Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers, 1862-1864.  Pasadena, Maryland: The Minerva Center, 1994.

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VICTORIA C. WOODHULL (1838 – 1927) First Woman to Run for U. S. President

In American History, American Presidents, Biography, Feminists, History, People, Presidential Candidates, Trivia, Victorian Women, women on June 14, 2010 at 9:21 PM

Victoria C. Woodhull

While Victoria California Woodhull’s endeavors did not all end successfully, she was very successful at laying a foundation for women to build on in business and politics.

Woodhull’s childhood was unstable.  Her family was poor, and love seemed to be a commodity her parents, Roxanna and Reuben Buckman Claflin, couldn’t afford.  The best way Claflin knew to deal with his ten children was to beat them.  Ironically, he had acquired wealth through real estate speculations, but lost everything when Victoria, the seventh child, was three.  Roxanna was born into money, the heiress of a rich Pennsylvania German family.  Being waited on hand and foot limited her motivation, and she never became literate or gained any ability to fend for herself.   

Woodhull’s formal education copied her mother’s.  She only spent a few years in school because she was pressed upon to help out so much at home, being treated almost like a slave.  Woodhull missed going to school and was an excellent student, but she acquired knowledge from other sources.

 BEING GUIDED BY THE SPIRIT                                                                              Woodhull believed in angels and lived with them as friends.  Every day she went into a trance and communicated with them, often sitting on the roof of the house for hours to escape the cruel, demanding life inside.  She had a simple faith in God, and took great comfort in relating to the angels and receiving channeled messages from them.  She credits these beings with giving her the ability to retain everything she read.

The angels were not imaginary beings but the spirits of people close to Woodhull.  When she was three, her nurse died suddenly.  Woodhull clearly remembered joining the nurse on her journey to the spirit world, being carried there by her.  Her mother recounted that her daughter’s body lay immobile, as if she were dead, for the three hours of this experience.  Woodhull also lost two sisters who died in childhood, and they became invisible playmates to her.  She also claimed to receive a prophecy from a spirit who confirmed that she would one day be a writer and publisher and leader of her people.

THIRD TIME’S A CHARM                                                                                           On the way to fulfilling her destiny, Woodhull married at age 14.  Her husband was 28, and it was not a happy union.  For two years she had become increasingly sick with the fever, and eventually Dr. Canning Woodhull was called to treat her.  When she recovered, he escorted Woodhull to a picnic and on the way home proposed marriage. This terrified her but her parents accepted the offer, and four months later they were married.  Dr. Woodhull’s fidelity lasted two days before he resumed his life as a philanderer and a drunk who lived beyond his means.

Within two years they had a baby boy, and it was born developmentally disabled.  Woodhull and the baby returned to her family and she earned her living with her clairvoyance and wisely invested her money. Then she had a healthy baby girl by another drunken philanderer.

Woodhull finally met her soul mate in Col. James H. Blood, a loving and compassionate man who was also a Spiritualist.  They were married spiritually if not legally, and Woodhull retained the name she was known by.  When Woodhull would go into a trance and channel the messages of the angels, Blood would diligently write down every word.

GOING WHERE NO WOMEN HAD GONE BEFORE                                          In 1869 Woodhull turned her attention to business and with her sister, Tennie, became the first female brokers on Wall Street when they established Woodhull, Claflin & Company.  They were supported partly by Woodhull’s investments and the respect and deep pockets of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who appreciated Woodhull’s clairvoyant abilities.  The sisters did not participate in the daily operations of the company, but they were nevertheless mocked in the press for being women in influential positions in finance.

The following year, these entrepreneurs started a journal called Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly which became a platform for their views on politics, finance and women’s issues.  If they weren’t controversial before, they were now.  Their opinions varied widely from the mainstream, and no topic was off limits.  They advocated the elimination of the gold standard, graduated income tax, legalized prostitution, spiritualism and vegetarianism.  They promoted women’s rights including sex education and “free love.” Woodhull believed in monogamy, but also that a woman retained the right to determine with whom she had sex.  And, contrary to the social mores of the time, she strongly defended a woman’s right to leave a bad marriage.  Woodhull quickly became a leader in the women’s suffrage movement preaching equality, freedom of choice, and the right to vote.  

IT’S AN HONOR TO BE NOMINATED                                                                 In 1871 Woodhull received a message from the same spirit that had earlier predicted her future, telling her to run for President.  Her husband dismissed the notion as ridiculous, and the friends that she consulted laughed at her.  But, the idea grew on her, and she trusted her spirit’s guidance. She announced her intention to run, and in June 1872, she was officially nominated as the candidate to represent the newly created Equal Rights Party.  Frederick Douglas, a former slave, was nominated as her running mate, but he did not accept. Woodhull’s platform was to advance women’s political equality with men. She received support from trade unions, socialists and women’s rights advocates, but some of her ideas were so radical that more conservative suffragists like Susan B. Anthony would not support her.

Woodhull’s nomination was controversial not only because of her gender, but the legality of it was suspect.  Technically she was ineligible because she wouldn’t be 35 years old, as mandated by the Constitution, until six months after the inauguration.  However, since Ohio, her birth state, didn’t require birth certificates until 1867, Woodhull’s age couldn’t be confirmed.  Also, the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote wasn’t ratified until 1920, which implied that a woman couldn’t run for President either.  And some believed that because she was a woman she was not a citizen, also a requirement for President.

Ulysses S. Grant easily won reelection, leaving Woodhull’s destiny unfulfilled.  In 1876 she divorced Colonel Blood and a few months later moved to England with her children.  She earned her living on the lecture circuit.  Wealthy banker John Biddulph Martin attended one of her talks and ended up becoming Woodhull’s third husband when she was 45 years old.  This time she assumed his name.  As Victoria Woodhull Martin, she and her daughter published a magazine called the Humanitarian until she was widowed.   She died in England on June 9, 1927.

QUESTION:  What are the best and worst things about being President of the United States?

© 2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

http://www.victoria-woodhull.com/tiltonbio.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_Woodhull

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1872

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAWwoodhullV.htm

http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/people_woodhull.html

JOAN WESTON (1935 – 1997) Roller Derby Queen

In 1960s, Biography, Female Athletes, People, Roller Derby, Roller Skating, Sports, women on June 1, 2010 at 10:39 AM

Joan Weston

In 1935 Joan Weston and Roller Derby were both born.  When they finally met, it was a match made in heaven.

Weston’s parents divorced when she was a baby, and she was raised by her maternal grandparents.  They worked six days a week at the restaurant and gas station they owned in Southern California.  Despite their preoccupation with earning a living, they created a strict but loving environment. 

Weston idolized her father who had movie star good looks, and she fondly remembers a summer spent with him before he was killed in a car accident.  Not knowing how to channel her grief, she blamed her mother for her parents’ divorce.  This compounded the emotional distance between them. 

Even though they weren’t Catholics, her grandfather insisted on a Mount St. Mary’s College education. Her grandmother was amenable to that until Weston decided she wanted to become a nun.  Weston then appeased her by directing all her energy into sports.  A natural athlete, Weston excelled in every sport she tried, but that didn’t mean her grandmother would let her try anything.  She balked when Weston wanted to take up trick horseback riding as being too dangerous.  Softball seemed like a good compromise, and Weston played school and league ball.  This proved to be a good match, and in one college game Weston hit eight home runs. 

Upon graduation, there weren’t many options for female athletes.  When Weston watched the Roller Derby she saw her future, and she couldn’t wait to take her skating from the sidewalk to the indoor banked track.  Her five feet ten inch, 150 pound frame and bleached blonde hair were the perfect body and image.  She moved to northern California to learn the sport and join a team. 

Weston’s sheltered upbringing hadn’t prepared her for the unrefined behavior and profanity of the skaters.  She felt so intimidated and out of place that she almost quit.  Knowing that her mother, a truck stop waitress, would understand that life a lot better, Weston called her for encouragement.  Her mother’s advice was that Roller Derby people were no different than anybody else. “People and sex are like franks and beans,” she said. “They go together.”1

It wasn’t the Roller Derby people or the lifestyle that attracted Weston.  She simply loved to skate, and skating at 30 miles an hour gave her a sense of freedom.  At the beginning she had to overcome some clumsiness, however.  In her first outing she tripped and fell in front of nine skaters, all of whom fell over her. 

After playing on various teams for several years, Weston gained her Roller Derby Queen reputation on the San Francisco Bay Bombers.  She started wearing the orange and black in 1963 when she was 28 years old.  Her fans called her the Blonde Bomber, Blonde Amazon and Golden Girl.  

Skating was so much her life that she skated full time (over 250 games each year) for 18 years and part time for another 24 years.  She played the Pivot position which gave her an opportunity to play defense and offense as necessary. Even though the Roller Derby was not a mainstream sport, Weston was the highest paid female athlete in the 1960s.  She earned less than her male counterparts, however, by nearly $20,000.

Derby teams toured the country to compete at local arenas, traveling by Greyhound bus or car.  One year Weston put 60,000 miles on her car.  The players stayed in Holiday Inns that dotted the trail.  Each night her best friend was waiting in the room for Weston to return.  Malia, a spotted mutt who was born in a box on a Greyhound bus, knew when Weston should be arriving and was peering out the window when her car pulled into the parking lot. 

It wasn’t easy to maintain romantic relationships while on the road.  When she was 20 she got engaged to another skater who was drop dead handsome.  The Roller Derby publicity department milked the relationship for all it was worth, but after 18 months it ended.  There were two other engagements that ended badly.  One suitor insisted Weston stop skating, but she sacrificed the relationship instead of her career.  With so much heart break, when she was 37 years old, Weston declared she would never marry.   

In 1965 the Roller Derby management promoted her to captain of the acclaimed Bay Bombers supplanting Annis (Big Red) Jensen.  On tour, Weston wore the white shirt of the home team. 

About that time a rivalry blossomed between Weston and Ann Calvello, another super star skater who wrote the red shirt of the rival teams. Weston vs. Calvello became the biggest rivalry in the history of the sport, and it was personal.  Games turned into good vs. evil slug fests, and Calvello never missed an opportunity to provoke and punish Weston’s teammates with illegal kicks and punches.  This fueled Weston to seek revenge.  Calvello’s cheap shots incensed audiences who would throw things at her and occasionally even damage her car.  Each skater played her part to perfection, but in the end, the audience demanded that good triumph over evil.  Even though Weston was the predictable victor, audiences packed the arenas the next night to see what would happen.

Injuries are a fact of life in Roller Derby, and Weston, like all players, suffered her share of debilitating ones.  In an interview she recounted knee cartilage surgery and a dislocated collar bone. Trips to the dentist were frequent as dentures replaced missing teeth.  In one game she got into such a heated argument with the referee that two of her teeth flew out of her mouth right past the ref’s ear.

Because of the violence, Weston’s mom could never accept her daughter’s career choice, or even watch a Roller Derby game.  Her grandmother had the courage to watch only one.  The star athlete found her support within the ranks of the sport.  Eventually she married skater Nick Scopas, and their relationship lasted until death parted them. 

If they weren’t proud of her job, Weston’s family could be proud of what she accomplished.  The Blond Bomber was voted Roller Derby Queen four times, received the Most Valuable Player award in 1968 and was inducted into the National Roller Derby Hall of Fame.   

In the 1970s a skaters’ strike, the gas crisis and increasing costs made managing the Roller Derby too expensive for Jerry Seltzer, son of founder Leo Seltzer. The original Roller Derby league skated their last game on December 3, 1973.  Seltzer sold everything Roller Derby to other promoters. 

Weston and Roller Derby started life and ended together.  She was 38 years old and her body didn’t bounce back from injuries as quickly, so this was the perfect time to retire.  It was not the end of skating for Weston, however.  She channeled her experience and expertise into training young skaters and staging exhibition games. 

Weston’s life wasn’t all skating all the time.  She loved Hawaii and won the 1962 outrigger championship on a canoe called Malia, the name sake for her dog.  Her love of softball exceeded her tenure skating and she played in leagues in northern California.

Weston contracted Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease, a rare degenerative brain disorder.  She died at age 62 in Hayward, California, survived by her husband.  Twenty-five years earlier she was asked if she had any regrets.  She said she did, but that there was one thing that compensated: stardom.  “Stardom is recognition, approval, power. Do you know what it’s like to be able to bring 20,000 people to their feet–to make them hate or love you? That’s where it’s at. Power!”2

QUESTION:  Who are your sports idols?  What is it about what they do that you respect?

 ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 Video:

Weston’s last interview:   http://rollergames.ning.com/video/joan-westons-last-sit-down

Interviews with Ann Calvello & Joan Weston: http://myspace.vtap.com/video/Ann+Calvello%252C+Joan+Weston%253A+Is+Roller+Derby+Real/CL0125573612_477e96dc8_V0lLSTQ4NDI1OTZ-aW46MX5xOmJyfmJ3OldJS0k0ODQyNTk2

 Sources:

1, 2http://astroworf.tripod.com/fw1.html

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/05/18/us/joanie-weston-62-a-big-star-in-the-world-of-roller-derbies.html

http://derbymemoirs.bankedtrack.info/mem_Weston_Joan.html

http://rollergames.ning.com/video/joan-westons-last-sit-down

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Weston

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/frank_deford/05/19/roller.derby.revival/index.html

http://articles.sfgate.com/2006-03-16/bay-area/17285386_1_roller-skated-san-francisco-bay-bombers/2

http://baycitybombers.com/Stories/calvello.html

http://www.ktvu.com/station/1854287/detail.html

http://www.rollerderbyhalloffame.com/id5.html

http://www.rollerderbyhalloffame.com/id3.html