Category Archives: Feminism

War Hero Deborah Sampson

War Hero Deborah Sampson

Early life

Deborah Sampson was born on December 17, 1760 in Plympton, Massachusetts. Her father, Johnathan Sampson, Jr. was a direct descendant of the Mayflower pilgrim Miles Standish. Her mother,  Deborah Bradford, was a direct descendant of the Mayflower pilgrim, William Bradford.

Though having historic roots, the Sampson family suffered financially due to bad luck and poor skills on Johnathan Samson’s part. He eventually abandoned his wife and seven children.

War Hero Deborah Sampson

Indentured servant

Because of her difficult situation and in poor health, Mrs Sampson placed her children in the homes of various relatives and friends. Ten-year-old Deborah Sampson became an indentured servant until her release at the age of 18.

For the next three years, she worked part-time as a schoolteacher and worked in homes spinning and weaving. Truning 21, above average in height  strong, and hearing of the Revolutionary War’s heroics, Deborah was looking for adventure. She decided to dress like a man and join the Continental Army.

After her first attempt, she thought others were suspicious and left.

Abner Weston,  a neighbor of Sampson, wrote in his diary about her cross-dressing: “Their hapend a uncommon affair at this time, for Deborah Samson of this town dress her self in men’s cloths and hired her self to Israel Wood to go into the three years Servis. But being found out returnd the hire and paid the Damages.

Sampson tried again, this time successfully joining the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment on  May 20, 1782 under the alias Robert Shurtliff,  Her five feet seven inch height helped fool others.

War Hero Deborah Sampson

Battle of Tarrytown

War Hero Deborah Sampson

Less that two months later, on July 3, 1782 at the Battle of Tarrytown, Sampson was wounded . Two musket balls hit her in the thigh and a sabre cut her forehead.

Fearful that others would discover her true identity, she begged her fellow soldiers to let her die and not take her to the hospital, but they refused to abandon her. Doctors treated her head wound, but she left the hospital before they could attend to the thigh.

She removed one of the balls herself with a penknife and sewing needle, but her leg never fully healed because the other musket ball was too deep for her to reach.

Almost a year later, on April 1, 1783, Sampson was transferred to Philadelphia as a personal orderly to General John Patterson.  This job entitled her to a better quality of life, better food, less danger, and improved shelter, but during that summer, Sampson came down with fever.

War Hero Deborah Sampson

Dr Barnabas Binney

Dr Barnabas Binney cared for her. He saw the cloth she used to bind her breasts and so discovered her secret. He did not betray her; he took her to his house, where his wife and daughters housed and took care of her.

In September, after Sampson had fully recovered, Binney asked her to deliver a personal letter to General Patterson. Upon delivering it, Patterson informed her that the letter said she was a woman in disguise.

War Hero Deborah Sampson

Discharge and marriage

On October 23, 1783 Deborah Sampson was honorably discharged from the Army.

On April 7, 1785 she married Benjamin Gannet from Sharon, Massachusetts. Together they had three children, Earl, Mary, and Patience.

War Hero Deborah Sampson

Request for pay

Revolutionary War Hero Deborah Sampson

In January 1792 Deborah Sampson petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for pay which the army had withheld from her because of her sex. Her petition passed through the State Senate, was approved, and signed by Governor John Hancock. The General Court of Massachusetts verified her service and wrote that she “exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her gender, unsuspected and unblemished“. The award was 34 pounds.

War Hero Deborah Sampson

Pension request

Twelve years later, on February 20, 1804 Paul Revere wrote to Massachusetts US Representative William Eustis on behalf of Sampson. Revere requested that the US Congress grant her a military pension. This had never before been requested by or for a woman, but with her health failing and her family destitute, the money was greatly needed. Revere wrote, “I have been induced to enquire her situation, and character, since she quit the male habit, and soldiers uniform; for the more decent apparel of her own gender…humanity and justice obliges me to say, that every person with whom I have conversed about her, and it is not a few, speak of her as a woman with handsome talents, good morals, a dutiful wife, and an affectionate parent.

More than a year later, on March 11, 1805, the US Congress obliged Revere’s letter and placed her on the Massachusetts Invalid Pension Roll. This pension plan paid Deborah Sampson four dollars a month.

Continuing to experience financial difficulty, in 1809, Sampson sent another petition to Congress, asking that her pension as an invalid soldier, given to her in 1804, commence with the time of her 1793 discharge. Had her petition been approved, she would have been awarded $960, to be divided into $48 a year for twenty years. However, Congress denied the request.

Seven years later, Sampson’s petition came before Congress again. This time, they approved it awarding her $76.80 a year. With this amount, she was able to repay all her loans and take better care of the family farm.

War Hero Deborah Sampson

Death

War Hero Deborah Sampson

On April 29, 1827 Deborah Sampson died at the age of 66. She is buried in Rock Ridge Cemetery in the town of Sharon, Massachusetts.

In 1831,  Sampson’s husband petitioned Congress for pay as the spouse of a deceased soldier. Although the couple was not married at the time of her service, in 1837 the committee concluded that the history of the Revolution “furnished no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity and courage.” He was awarded the money, though he died before receiving it.

War Hero Deborah Sampson

Proclamation

Revolutionary War Hero Deborah Sampson

May 23, 1983: Governor Michael J. Dukakis signed a proclamation which declared that Deborah Sampson was the Official Heroine of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Two news services stated this was the first time in US history that any state had proclaimed anyone as the official hero or heroine.

Using her unselfish example today, it was reported on March 21, 2017 in the Military Times that “advocates are lobbying for sweeping reforms in women veterans services in the wake of a nude photo sharing scandals that have raised questions about misogyny and morale in the military.

“When people think of veterans, when they close their eyes, they don’t think about someone who looks like me,” said Allison Jaslow, chief of staff for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Until we get over that hurdle, we’re not going to be able to get everything else that we need.”

The measure — dubbed the Deborah Sampson Act, after the woman who disguised herself as a man to serve in the Continental Army — mandates more peer-to-peer counseling for women veterans, expanded newborn care services at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities, better tracking of women’s health issues by the department and $20 million to retrofit VA medical centers with more privacy features.

War Hero Deborah Sampson
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Mary Louise Smith Ware

Mary Louise Smith Ware

October 21, 1955
Refused to give up bus seat

Mary Louise Smith Ware

As unfair as it may sound, being historic sometimes depends on whether others think you can be historic. In other words, you may do something historic, but others feel that you do not look the part and thus your historic act is left to wither.

Mary Louise Smith Ware

Irene Morgan

The right to chose a bus seat regardless of one’s race was not possible under the enacted Jim Crow laws of many states as well as the unspoken norms of most states. On July 16, 1944, 27-year-old Irene Morgan, recovering from a miscarriage and traveling by bus from Virginia to Baltimore for a doctor’s appointment, refused to give up her seat to a white couple.

Angered by the refusal, the bus driver drove the bus to the Middlesex County town of Saluda and stopped outside the jail. A sheriff’s deputy came aboard and told Morgan that he had a warrant for her arrest. She continued to refuse and police had to physically subdue her. Authorities jailed her for resisting arrest and violating Virginia’s segregation law.

Because interstate travel came under the auspices of the federal government, civil rights lawyers challenged Morgan’s later conviction. On June 3, 1946, in Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, the US Supreme Court (6 – 1) ruled in favor of Morgan declaring that  segregated seating on interstate buses an “impermissible burden on interstate commerce.”  

Mary Louise Smith Ware

Claudette Colvin


Few know the name Claudette Colvin, but on March 2, 1955 the 15-year-old Colvin boarded a city bus after school to head home. As it filled up, a white woman was left standing, and the bus driver ordered Colvin to get up and move to the back. She refused. Police dragged Colvin off the bus in handcuffs.

Mary Louise Smith Ware

Mary Louise Smith

On October 21, 1955 police arrested 18-year-old Mary Louise Smith for violating segregation laws in Montgomery, Ala. She had refused to change her bus seat.

Her father bailed her out of jail and paid the nine-dollar fine. The incident was initially known only to family and neighbors. Nothing more was said or done about it.

At first.

Mary Louise Smith Ware

Rosa Parks

Of course, most of us know that Rosa Parks, considered the godmother of the Civil Rights Movement, did the same thing on December 1, 1955. Parks certainly deserves that honored recognition.

Mary Louise Smith Ware

Browder v. Gayle

On February 1, 1956, attorney Fred Gray and other attorneys filed a civil suit, Browder v Gayle in the US District Court, challenging state and local laws on bus segregation. Mary Louise Smith was one of the five plaintiffs. Others included Aurelia Browder, Claudette Colvin, Susie McDonald, and Jeanette Reese. Reese soon left the case because of intimidation.

Ironically, the case did not include Rosa Parks herself. Gray had made the decision to avoid the perception that the defendants were seeking to circumvent Parks’s prosecution on other charges. Gray ‘‘wanted the court to have only one issue to decide—the constitutionality of the laws requiring segregation on the buses’’

The women testified before a three-judge panel. On June 13, 1956 the court ruled that the laws were unconstitutional, based on equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Montgomery and Alabama appealed the case and eventually the US Supreme court took the case. 

On November 13, 1956, the US Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling and on December 17, it declined an appeal by the city and state to reconsider, and on December 20 ordered the state to desegregate its buses.

This final decision ended the Montgomery Bus Boycott that had begun with Rosa Parks refusal and with Rosa Parks as the figurehead of the subsequent boycott. 

Mary Louise Smith Ware

Mrs Ware

Smith married a Mr. Ware and they had four children together. They later divorced. Smith Ware continued to work for civil rights such as for voting rights before the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, and participated in the March on Washington in 1963. Her sister Annie’s son was a plaintiff in the lawsuit to desegregate the Y.M.C.A. Smith is active with her 12 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She enjoys reading, and she is active in several of her church auxiliaries and senior citizen clubs. When Rosa Parks died in October 2005, Smith Ware, then 68, attended the memorial service in Montgomery. “I had to pay my tribute to her,” Ware said. “She was our role model.”

Here is a link to a 2013 Democracy Now piece on all these heroic women.

In the comments below, William Waheed refers to a YouTube video he  helped put together. It is called “More Than A Bus Ride Documentary”

Mary Louise Smith Ware
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New York Radical Women 1968

New York Radical Women 1968

September 7, 1968

Miss America Pageant, Atlantic City, NJ

New York Radical Women 1968

Second-wave Feminism

Time’s passage allows society to mistakenly think that something is new when it is not. The feminism of the 1960s may have seemed like a new movement, but of course 19th and early 20th century Suffragists such as Lucy Burns had in many ways a more difficult time (see Suffragists Tortured).

That era is known as the first wave of US feminism. [see Four Waves of Feminism article]

By the early 1960s, alongside the civil rights movement, women again marched and raised their voices to demand equality in the face of hypocrisy.

That “all men [and women] are created equal.”

New York Radical Women 1968

Boomer moms and their daughters

New York Radical Women 1968

As had happened during World War I and more so in World War II, many women realized that while being a homemaker was an acceptable choice, so were all the other occupations.

More and more women entered college and not just to get their MRS. You can see by the chart below that while the number of men and women with a Bachelor’s degree continued to increase for both sexes, it was in the 1960s that woman began to outnumber men.

New York Radical Women 1968

New York Radical Women 1968

NYRM

Robin Morgan, Carol Hanisch, Shulamith Firestone, and Pam Allen founded New York Radical Women in the fall of 1967 in New York City. The women viewed the hierarchy of protest groups to be male-dominated and that that hierarchy kept women in subservient positions rather than allowing them to have positions of power.

The NYRM’s first action was on January 15, 1968 with in led a protest event, a “burial of traditional womanhood.” held in Arlington National Cemetery.

The action was also a counter-protest to the  Jeannette Rankin Brigade peace march in Washington D.C. That march was a gathering of women’s groups protesting the Vietnam War as grieving wives, mothers, and daughters. The Radical Women rejected the protest. It said it was simply a reaction to those who governed the male-dominated society.

New York Radical Women 1968

1968 Miss America Pageant

No bras burned

The New York Radical Women’s held their most famous protest on September 7, 1968 at the Miss America contest in Atlantic City.

The group called the pageant a “cattle auction” and displayed a “Women’s Liberation” banner. Most famously, women placed into a trash can bras, girdles, Playboy magazines, mops, and other items representing their oppression.

They did not burn the items.

New York Radical Women 1968

Dissolution of NYRW

In 1969, ideological differences led Robin Morgan to leave and form Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.). Shulamith Firestone started Redstockings.

New York Radical Women 1968
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