Women in warfare and the military in the 19th century

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Active warfare throughout history has mainly been a matter for men, but women have also played a role, often a leading one. While women rulers conducting warfare was common, women who participated in active warfare was rare. The following list of women in war and their exploits from about 1800 up to about 1899 can only indicate the involvement of women, some of them due to the circumstances of their birth or family connection, others by force of circumstance from humble origins.

Only women active in direct warfare, such as warriors, spies, and women who actively led armies are included in this list.

Timeline of women in warfare in the 19th century worldwide[edit]

Countess Emilia Plater




  • 1821: Laskarina Bouboulina fights in the Greek War of Independence.
  • 1821: Manto Mavrogenous fights in the Greek War of Independence.
  • 1821: Rallou Karatza participates in the Greek war of Independence.
  • 1822: Angelique Brulon, a female soldier who had in defence of Corsica from 1792–1799, is promoted to lieutenant. She had originally fought while disguised as a man, but eventually fought openly as a woman. She retires the same year.
  • 1822: Maria Quitéria fights in the Brazilian war of independence.[14]
  • 1824: Queen Kittur Chennamma of the Kittur kingdom in India fights the British.


  • 1830s: Pine Leaf of the Crow tribe is recorded as having counted coup, participated in warfare, and having had multiple female wives. She can be considered Two-spirited.[15]
  • 1831: Countess Emilia Plater creates her own group to fight in the Polish November Uprising. She becomes commanding officer of a company of infantry in the rank of captain. She dies from illness contracted during a forced march in December 1832. Several other women served openly as soldiers during this Polish rebellion against Russia, although not many are named; Soltyk reported that a beautiful girl of eighteen fought at the Russian crossfier at the Vola trenches in Warsaw the 4th September 1831, and he added that "there where not one troop of our army, where not one or more of these heroines fought."
  • 1836: The Warner Sisters come to Constitution Island . For a half century, Susan and Anna Warner wrote popular novels and taught Sunday School to West Point cadets. Susan wrote a Wide Wide World, one of the nation's best sellers, in the 1850s. Anna wrote the words to the children's verse “Jesus Loves Me.” They later donated the island to the United States Military Academy in 1908. The remains of both sisters lie in the West Point cemetery.[16]
  • 1838-1839: Johanna Martens serve in the Dutch army dressed as a man to be near to her lover, a soldier [17]
  • January 20, 1839: Sergeant Candelaria Perez fights in the Battle of Yungay.
  • Women were first officially assigned as keepers in the Lighthouse Service of the U.S. Coast Guard beginning in the 1830s although many wives and daughters of keepers had previously served as keepers when their husbands or fathers became ill. Women continued as lighthouse keepers until 1947.[18]



  • 1850s: Hanging Cloud becomes the first and only woman of the Ojibwa tribe to become a full warrior.
  • 1850: Female Blackfoot war chief Running Eagle is killed in battle.
  • 1851: Eliza Allen publishes her memoirs about her experiences of disguising herself as a man and fighting in the Mexican-American War.[20]
  • 1851: Júlia Bányai participates in the uprising against Austria in Transylvania.
  • 1851: Seh-Dong-Hong-Beh of the Dahomey Amazons leads an all-female army of 6,000 into battle against the Egba fortress of Abeokuta.
  • 1854: Florence Nightingale (a British nurse) revolutionised both the care of sick soldiers in the Crimean War, and also expectations of the role of women of her status.
  • 1857: Last stand of Lalla Fatma N'Soumer, an Algerian woman who resisted French colonialism.
  • 1857–1858: Indian queen Rani Lakshmibai leads battles against the British. A member of her army, Indian resistance leader Jalkari Bai, defends Jhansi fort against the British.[21]
  • 1857–1858: Begum Hazrat Mahal leads a band of her supporters against the British in the Indian rebellion of 1857.
  • 1858: Battle of Spokane Plain. Colestah of the Yakama tribe participates.[22]
  • 1858, March 28: After personally leading a campaign against the British to regain her throne from them, Avantibai of the Indian state of Ramgarth kills herself when defeat seems imminent.[23]
  • 1859: From 1859 to 1862 Maria Andreu (a.k.a. Maria Mestre de los Dolores) served as the Keeper of the St. Augustine Lighthouse in Florida, becoming the first Hispanic-American woman to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard and the first Hispanic-American woman to oversee a federal shore installation.[18]


  • Civil War (1861-1865): Women provide casualty care and nursing to Union and Confederate troops at field hospitals and on the Union Hospital Ship Red Rover. Biologically female soldiers on both sides wear male clothing in order to serve; some of them, such as Albert Cashier, were transgender men. By the end of the war, over 500 fully paid positions were available to women as nurses and in the United States Military.[10]
  • 1861: Dr. Mary Walker was a doctor with the Union Army at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) and three later major engagements, but was later captured and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of war. She held the rank of captain. She was the first American female prisoner of war; she was captured on April 10, 1864, when she took a wrong turn while trying to get to a sick patient. The Confederates imprisoned her in the military prison in Richmond, VA, known as "Castle Thunder", and she was released on August 12, 1864, in exchange for a Confederate major. At war's end, she received the Medal of Honor for her service and for hardships endured as a POW. She is the only female to ever receive this honor. When the criteria for awarding the medal changed in 1917, Dr. Walker’s medal was rescinded along with 900 others, but in 1977, due to the persistent efforts of the Walker family, the Army Board of Corrections reviewed the case and reversed the 1917 decision, thus restoring the Medal of Honor to Dr. Walker.[24][24]
  • 1861–1863: Lizzie Compton disguises herself as a man and fights on the side of the Union in the American Civil War.
  • 1861–1865: Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist and a former slave, becomes an Union spy. She also served as a scout and nurse, and she passed undetected through Confederate lines and acted as a liaison between Union troops and recently freed black slaves. She led a band of scouts and provided key intelligence to the Union Army. Tubman became the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War in the Raid at Combahee Ferry in 1863. In 1913, Tubman was buried with full military honors at Ft. Hill Cemetery, Auburn, NY.[25]
  • 1862: Susan King Taylor, at fourteen, becomes the first African American army nurse in the United States.[26]
  • March 20, 1862: Malinda Blalock disguises herself as a man and registers as "Samuel Blalock" in the Confederate military. She fights in three battles with her husband, who was her sergeant.
  • April 6–7, 1862: Laura J. Williams participates in the Battle of Shiloh with a company that she raised and led, all while disguised as a man.
  • 1862: Four sisters of the Holy Cross and five black women served aboard the Navy's first hospital ship, RED ROVER, to provide medical care.[9]
  • 1863: Pauline Cushman, an actress, served on the Union side as a spy dressed in male uniform. She was given a volunteer reserve commission as a major by President Abraham Lincoln, and became known as Miss Major Cushman. By the end of the war in 1865 she was touring the country giving lectures on her exploits as a spy, and was presented by P.T. Barnum in New York.
  • 1863: Anna Henryka Pustowojtowna fights in the Polish uprising dressed as a man.
  • January 25, 1865: Florena Budwin dies and becomes the first American woman to be buried in a national cemetery. She had disguised herself as a man in order to fight on the side of the Union Army in the American Civil War.
  • February 17, 1865: Confederate soldier Mollie Bean is captured by Union forces in the American Civil War while disguised as a man. When questioned, she said she had served for two years and that she was wounded twice.
  • July 25, 1865: Retired military Inspector General, H.M. Army Hospitals, Doctor James Barry, dies. Upon inspection of the corpse, it is discovered that Barry was in fact, female-bodied.
  • 1866-1868: The only known female Buffalo Soldier was Cathay Williams, a Missouri slave. She disguised herself as a man, William Cathay, and enlisted in one of six black infantry units after the Civil War. She served from November 15, 1866, until her discharge on October 14, 1868, and her true identity was not discovered until she applied for an Army pension in 1891.[25]
  • 1868: Battle of Beecher Island takes place. Ehyophsta of the Cheyenne fights in it and later fights the Shoshone that same year.
  • October 1868: In Japan, Nakano Takeko and a group of other women take part in the Battle of Aizu.




  • March 1894: Taytu Betul marches to the Battle of Adwa with the Ethiopian imperial army, and commands a force of cannonners.[31]
  • 1896: Philippine Revolution breaks out. Filipina woman Melchora Aquino becomes known as the "Grand Woman of the Revolution" and the "Mother of Balintawak" for her direct assistance to the revolutionaries.[32][33]
  • 1896: Shona spiritual leader Nehanda Nyakasikana rebels against colonization of Zimbabwe.
  • 1898: Spanish-American War (1898): Thousands of US soldiers sick with typhoid, malaria, and yellow fever overwhelm the capabilities of the Army Medical Department. Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee suggests to the Army Surgeon General that the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) be appointed to select professionally qualified nurses to serve under contract to the US Army. Before the war ends, 1,500 civilian contract nurses are assigned to Army hospitals in the US, Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, as well as to the Hospital Ship Relief. Twenty nurses die. 32 black women serve as Army contract nurses during the Spanish–American War. The 32 were thought to be immune to yellow fever during the yellow fever and typhoid epidemics, but at least three of them die from their exposure to the illness. A total of 80 African-American professional nurses serve under contract with the Army, including five graduates from the prestigious Tuskegee Institute.[25] The Army appoints Dr. McGee Acting Assistant Surgeon General, making her the first woman ever to hold the position. The Army is impressed by the performance of its contract nurses and asks Dr. McGee to write legislation creating a permanent corps of nurses.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Heuvel, Geertruida Sara Catharina van den (1783-1838)
  2. ^ Salmonson, p.56
  3. ^ Salmonson, p. 201
  4. ^ Turner, Karen (2008). "Bui Thi Xuan". The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Oxford University Press. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-19-514890-9. 
  5. ^ Femmes d'Haiti : Marie-Jeanne
  6. ^ Salmonson, p. 26
  7. ^ Lincoln P. Paine: Warships of the World To 1900
  8. ^ Salmonson, Jessica Amanda (1991). The Encyclopedia of Amazons. Paragon House. p. 26. 
  9. ^ a b http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/organization/bupers/WomensPolicy/Pages/HistoryFirsts.aspx
  10. ^ a b c d Women In Military Service For America Memorial
  11. ^ Gunningh Sloet, Francina (ca. 1792-na 1814)
  12. ^ Isabelle Bauino,Jacques Carré,Cécile Révauger: The Invisible Woman: Aspects Of Women's Work In Eighteenth-century Britain
  13. ^ Salmonson, p. 35
  14. ^ Brazilian biographical annual, Volume 2 By Joaquim Manoel de Macedo, p.493-496
  15. ^ Edwin T. Denig: Five Indian Tribes at the Upper Missouri, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1961, p. 195–200
  16. ^ Public Affairs - Home
  17. ^ Martens, Johanna (ca. 1818-na 1839)
  18. ^ a b c Women's History Chronology
  19. ^ Salmonson, p.29
  20. ^ Salmonson, p. 7
  21. ^ Sarala, Srikrishna (1999). Indian revolutionaries: a comprehensive study, 1757–1961 I. Prabhat Prakashan. ISBN 978-81-87100-16-4. 
  22. ^ Salmonson, p. 63
  23. ^ Women and War: A Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present, By Bernard A. Cook, p.199
  24. ^ a b Women In Military Service For America Memorial
  25. ^ a b c Women In Military Service For America Memorial
  26. ^ Claiming Their Citizenship: African American Women From 1624-2009
  27. ^ Johnson, Chris; Jolyon Leslie (2004). Afghanistan: the mirage of peace. Zed Books. p. 171. ISBN 1-84277-377-1. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  28. ^ Abdullah Qazi. "Afghan Women's History". Afghanistan Online. Retrieved 2010-09-12. 
  29. ^ "Women in the Canadian military". CBC News. May 30, 2006. 
  30. ^ Rethinking Islam and Liberal Democracy: Islamist Women in Turkish Politics By Yesim Arat, p.76
  31. ^ The History of Ethiopia, By Saheed A. Adejumobi p.166
  32. ^ Chronology of women's history
  33. ^ Language Arts for the Filipino Learners: An Integrated Language and Reading WorkText for Grade Four, p. 106

External links[edit]