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CLARA BARTON, SOLDIER OR PACIFIST? Ellen Langenheim Henle The idea that women can be soldiers touches a sensitive nerve among the American people. A recent editorial in The Washington Post, "Why Should Girls Have To Play With Guns Too?," evoked so many letters from readers that an entire page in a subsequent issue was devoted to the debate on women's future role in the American Military. The actual role of American women in the armed services has increased substantially in the last decade and the day for debating a "proper" role for women may have passed. West Point, Annapolis, and the Air Force Academy now admit women. Female Marines are being trained for combat despite legal prohibitions against using women in actual combat. And the Army Chief of Staff advocates drafting women if the draft is restored.1 American women have participated in wars from the earliest days. They served with regiments in the French and Indian War—as laundresses, seamstresses, and cooks. There have been campfollowers in all wars: prostitutes from Philadelphia even journeyed out to Valley Forge during the American Revolution to warm things up a bit for the frozen soldiers there. Thousands of women served as nurses in hospitals during the Civil War. In this century, American women have worked in munitions industries, flown transport planes for the military, and gone directly to the front as Red Cross nurses.2 1 See The Washington Post, Aug. 20, 1977. See also "Women in Combat; A Matter of Rights?," ibid., Feb. 14, 1977 and "Female Marines Get Training in Field Tactics at Quantico," ibid., April 7, 1977. Preliminary versions of this paper were given at the Office of Military History, Washington, D.C., March, 1977 and at a Conference on the History of Women, College of St. Catharine, St. Paul, Minnesota, October, 1977. 2 See Walter H. Blumenthal, Women Campfollowers of the American Revolution (Philadelphia, 1952) for an interesting account of women in this war. There are several good secondary sources on women in the Civil War: Mary E. Massey, Bonnet Brigades (New York, 1966); and Agathe Young, Women and the Crisis: Women of the North in the Civil War (New York, 1959). Good primary published material on women in the Civil War include Frank Moore, Women of the War (Hartford, 1866) and Linus P. Brockett and Mary Vaughan, Woman's Work in the Civil War (Rochester, 1867). See Portia Kemodle, The Red Cross Nurse in Action 1882-1948 (New York, 1949) for information on wartime nursing since the Civil War. There is a real need for a good comprehensive history of women's varied roles in twentieth-century wars. 152 Historians have done little to shed light on women's roles in war. This is partly because women's history was considered unimportant by many professional historians until the last decade. Many of those currently doing research in the field of women's history have a pacifist bias which affects their choice of subject matter. In a session on women and war at a recent professional meeting, all three papers were devoted to female pacifists. The historians giving the presentations expressed their concern at "the increasing role of women in the United States armed forces." They were also bothered by the fact that "some of them [women] were demanding combat training and assignments."3 The life and writings of one American woman who was actively involved in three major wars of the nineteenth century may illumine the history of women and war and contribute new perspectives to the modern debate on women's future role in the military. Clara Barton was a Civil War heroine, founder of the American National Red Cross in 1881, and its first president for over twenty years. Miss Barton, born in 1821 in Oxford, Massachusetts, participated in the Civil War as a battlefield nurse and as a onewoman relief worker bringing needed medical supplies and food to the front lines in her army wagons. In the Franco-Prussian War, she followed the German troops into Strasbourg after a monthlong seige and stayed there for six months organizing a relief program for poor women in the city. In the Spanish-American War in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 152-160
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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