Pauline Cushman

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Pauline Cushman
Pauline Cushman.jpg
Born Harriet Wood
June 10, 1833
New Orleans, Louisiana
Died December 2, 1893(1893-12-02) (aged 60)
San Francisco, California
Other names Major Pauline Cushman Fryer, Pauline Fryer
Occupation Actress, Union Spy
Spouse(s) Jere Fryer, August Fichtner, Charles C. Dickinson, Scott Gebbie
Children Three, Charles and Ida, and adopted daughter Emma

Pauline Cushman (Born Harriet Wood) (June 10, 1833 – December 2, 1893), was an American actress and a spy for the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Early life[edit]

Harriet was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on June 10, 1833, the daughter of a Spanish merchant and a Frenchwoman (daughter of one of Napoleon Bonaparte's soldiers). Harriet and her brother William[1] were raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Pauline Cushman's parents moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan to set up a trading post with Indians. Pauline Cushman's friends growing up were little Indian girls. She was accepted into their tribe and they called her the "Laughing Breeze." Pauline was a very caring little girl and always wanted to help people in need. She would open her parents home to the Indians that needed shelter and food. In 1851 she returned to her native Louisiana to join the performance group: New Orleans Varieties. Later she would travel to New York where she would take the stage name Pauline Cushman. Pauline Cushman was also married to Jere Fryer, Charles C. Dickinson, and August Fichtner. She also had three children Charles, Ida, and her adopted daughter Emma. She served her country as a scout and spy during the Civil War in 1863, under the command of Major General William Starke Rosecrans.

Photograph by Mathew Brady of Cushman in uniform


After a Northern performance, Pauline was paid by two local pro-Confederate men to toast Confederate President Jefferson Davis after a performance. The theatre forced her to quit, but she had other ideas. She had decided to ingratiate herself with the rebels by making the toast, while offering her services to the Union as a spy. By fraternizing with rebel military commanders, she managed to conceal battle plans and drawings in her shoes, but was caught and brought before Confederate general Braxton Bragg, tried by a military court, and sentenced to death. Though she was already ill, she acted worse than she already was. The Confederate had to postpone her execution. It is said that she was saved three days before her hanging by the invasion of the area by Union troops. Some reports state that she returned to the South in her role as a spy dressed in male uniform for references. She was awarded the rank of Brevet Major by General James A. Garfield and commended by President Abraham Lincoln for her service to the Federal cause, and became known as "Miss Major Pauline Cushman."[2] By the end of the war in 1865 she was touring the country giving lectures on her exploits as a spy.

Later life and legacy[edit]

The Walker-Oury House, located in 255 Ruggles St. in Florence, Arizona Territory, is where Pauline Cushman wed Jere Fryer.
Pauline Cushman and her husband, Jere Fryer, purchased this house located in 364 North Grant Street in Florence, Arizona Territory.

Pauline became popular enough to be featured by , which perhaps explains why details of her story may well have become exaggerated. But because her undercover activities on behalf of the government were secret, it also helps to explain the lack of corroborative information about her life at this time. However, in 1865 a friend, Ferdinand Sarmiento, wrote her biography, The Life of Pauline Cushman: The celebrated Union spy and scout. Comprising her early history; her entry into the secret service notes and memoranda. (ASIN: B000857W12)

She lost her child to sickness by 1868, and married again in 1872 in San Francisco, but was widowed within a year. Sources state that in 1879 she met Jere Fryer and moved to Casa Grande, Arizona Territory, where they married and operated a hotel and livery stable. Jere Fryer became the sheriff of Pinal County. An adopted daughter Emma died, and the Fryers separated in 1890. By 1892, she was living in poverty in El Paso, Texas. She had applied for back pension based on her first husband's military service. She received the pension beginning in June 1895. Her last few years were spent in a boarding house in San Francisco, working as a seamstress and charwoman. Disabled from the effects of rheumatism and arthritis, she developed an addiction to pain medication, and on the night of 2 December 1893 she took an overdose of morphine. She was found the next morning by her landlady.

She had died as Pauline Fryer at the age of sixty. The time of her Civil War fame was recalled at her funeral, which was arranged by members of the Grand Army of the Republic. "Major" Cushman's remains now rest in Officer's Circle at the Presidio's National Cemetery in San Francisco. Her simple gravestone recognizes her contribution to the Union's victory. It is marked, "Pauline C. Fryer, Union Spy."

Paula Raymond was cast as Pauline Cushman in the 1964 episode "The Wooing of Perilous Pauline" of the syndicated western television series, Death Valley Days. In the story line, set in Casa Grande, where the feisty Miss Cushman was operating a saloon, she is wooed by her future husband, Jere Fryer (Ray Danton), who makes a bet with a friend that he can convince her to marry him within a week. Fryer later becomes a sheriff; the couple separated in 1890.[3]


  1. ^ ChristenPauline Cushman
  2. ^ "Minor Items", The Cultivator and Country Gentleman, Albany, NY: Luther Tucker & Son, vol. XLI no. 1199, p. 45, January 20, 1876, retrieved July 3, 2014 
  3. ^ "The Wooing of Perilous Pauline". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved August 6, 2015. 


  • Sarmiento, Ferdinand L. (1865). Life of Pauline Cushman, the Celebrated Union Spy and Scout: Comprising Her Early History, Her Entry into the Secret Service of the Army of the Cumberland, and Exciting Adventures with the Rebel Chieftains and Others While Within the Enemy's Lines ... the Whole Carefully Prepared from Her Notes and Memoranda. John E. Potter. OCLC 50384124. 


  • Herringshaw, Thomas William. 1909. "Cushman, Pauline". Herringshaw's National Library of American Biography: Contains Thirty-Five Thousand Biographies of the Acknowledged Leaders of Life and Thought of the United States; Illustrated with Three Thousand Vignette Portraits.

External links[edit]

Due to conflicting details about her life, several source links are provided.