Women of History: Sor Juana de la Cruz

Author’s note:  I apologise for the lack of Spanish punctuation.  I haven’t quite figured out the character settings on this blog to do them.

This week we travel to Mexico during the 1600s. Our featured lady of history is Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (Sister Juana Ines of the Cross), a 17th century nun who was an early feminist and poet

Sor Juana Ines was born Juana Ines de Asbaje y Ramriz de Santillana on November 12, 1651 (or possibly 1648). She was born in San Miquel Napantla, a town located in the southern half of Modern Mexico. At the time however, it was known as New Spain, still a colony of Spain. Her hometown was later renamed in her honor as Napantla de Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz) Continue reading “Women of History: Sor Juana de la Cruz”

Women of History: The First US Senators

This week we are going have a double feature, the first two women to ever serve in the US Senate:  Rebecca Felton and Hattie Caraway. Women having the right to vote was passed with the 19th amendment to the constitution in 1920, but it would be quite a while before women started taking office in the highest offices in the government.  In fact, Rebecca Felton was appointed to be a Senator for a day in 1922, but Hattie Caraway, the first woman to be elected to the Senate was sworn in November 1931, almost a full decade after Rebecca served her day.

Several of the next female Senators would be widows  of Senators who died in office. The first time more than 2 women served at once wouldn’t be till the 1990s. Even in the current congress, women only make up 22 percent of the elected body.  Only 29 states have ever had a female senator, and only 51 women have ever served in Congress.  The current congress is actually the highest percentage ever of women.

Rebecca Felton was born Rebecca Ann Latimer on June 10, 1935.  She grew up in Decatur, Georgia with three siblings. Her father was a general store owner and merchant, and was able to afford to send his daughter to live with relatives in Madison so that she could attend Methodist Female College, where she graduated at the top of her class in 1852 at 17.  The college at the time was set up to provide a foundation education for the women who would one day be the wives of the businessman and planters.  However, the war between the states would soon see the educational facility closed down.

A year later Rebecca married William Felton and moved with him in Cartersville, Georgia. William was, like her father, a planter and owned a plantation.  Her experiences during the civil war, both as a resident of Georgia who saw the results of Sherman’s march and her life as a slave owner influenced her later political life.  She saw slavery as mainly economical, a investment.  However, she felt that she would have rather have given up ‘domestic slavery’ then have seen the detriment of the war on Georgia.

After the war,both she and her husband became more politically active.  Rebecca herself focused on prison reform and women’s suffrage.  However, she was not a intersectional feminist by any means.  She pushed against the right to vote for black citizens, claiming education and voting would lead to more black crime.  She was in favor of lynching and was otherwise a supremacist in attitude.

Her time in the senate arrived as an appointment.  in 1922, Sen. Thomas E. Watson died.  The governor of Georgia, Thomas Hardwick, decided to appoint Rebecca as a placeholder till a special election could take place.  However, congress didn’t meet again until after the special election was held.  Hardwick had been running for the position, but ended up losing to Walter F. George.  George decided to allow Rebecca to be sworn in on November 21, 1922.  She was the Senator from Georgia for 24 hours, as George was sworn in on November 22.

Rebecca continued her activism after she left office.  She passed away on January 24, 1930 at the age of 94.  It would be another year before another woman would take office in the US Senate.

Hattie Caraway would be the first woman elected into the Senate, but like Rebecca it would start as an appointment.

She was born Hattie Ophelia Wyatt on February 1, 1878 in Bakersville, Tennessee.  Like Rebecca, she was the daughter of a farmer who owned a store.  The family as a whole moved to Hustburg when she was four.  She would remain there till her college years when she would transfer from Ebenezer College to Dickson Normal College where she would earn her bachelors of Arts degree in 1896.

She went on to teach for about eight years prior to her marriage to Thaddeus Caraway.  She had met Thaddeus in college, but the pair didn’t marry until 1902.  The pair would move to Jonesboro, Arkansas with their three children and set up a legal practice for Thaddeus and cotton farm.

In 1912, the couple made a second home in Maryland after Thaddeus was elected to the US House of Representatives for Arkansas.  He would hold that position for 9 years before he was elected senator in 1921.  In 1931, Thaddeus died suddenly from a blood clot while the couple was back home in Arkansas.  The governor decided to appoint Hattie to hold the seat till an election could be held.  She won the special election to finish out her husband’s final term.  She won an election on her own right in 1932, and then proceed to hold her seat until 1945.

During her time in office, she became the first woman to preside over the Senate, to chair a committee and to win a re-election.  She was given the responsibility of presiding over the senate twice.  Once in 1932 (although it was not officially noted down) and again in 1943. She was a great supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and his new deal programs, although she, like Rebecca before her, was against any anti-lynching bill.  She was focused on issues dear to her state,  requesting to serve on the agricultural committee.  She earned a reputation as “Silent Hattie”  for her lack of speeches made on the floor.  She tended to reserve her opinions for committee meetings and rallies instead.

After loosing her re-election campaign in 1944, she served both Roosevelt and Truman on their Employees’ Compensation committees. She suffered a stroke in early 1950 while still serving on the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board , and died later that year on December 21.

Further Reading

Women in the US Senate

Rebecca Felton

Wikipedia: Rebecca Latimer Felton

History of Madison Georgia

The History of the First Methodist Church of Madison

Country Life in Georgia – Rebecca Felton  (Ebook available free from Google Play)

Georgia Encyclopedia: Rebecca Latimer Felton

House History: Felton, Rebecca Latimer

Hattie Caraway

Wikipedia: Hattie Wyatt Caraway

House History: Caraway, Hattie Wyatt

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas: Hattie Ophelia Wayt Caraway

US Senate: A Woman Presides over the Senate

 

Master List

Women of History: Yamamoto Yae

For this week’s Women of History feature, I’ve decided to go out of my knowledge base. I’m more well versed in Euro-American history and wanted to expand my horizons. So after asking around it was suggested I look into Yamamoto Yae, a Japanese woman who served as a nurse during Russo-Japanese war and was decorated for her service to Japan. She continuously advocated for what she thought was needed, and did not let the cultural ties keep her from doing so. Continue reading “Women of History: Yamamoto Yae”

Cathay Williams

Today’s choice for “Women of History,” is another american woman named Cathay Williams. Ms. Williams was an African-american woman who joined the US Army during the Civil war under the alias of William Cathey. She was the first African-American woman documented to join the military.

Cathay Williams was born in Independence, Missouri in September 1844. Her father was a freed man, but her mother was still a slave, therefore Cathay herself was born into slavery. She worked as a house slave until 1861 when she was 17 years old. However, it was into another form of slavery that she transitioned to. The Union Army, in a time before the emancipation proclamation had decided that slaves that had worked to help the Confederate cause were ‘contraband’, and still considered property. They took the slaves from the plantations and pressed them into service as cooks and other support services. Cathay was added to the 8th Indiana Volunteer Regiment to serve as a cook and seamstress. She would spend the next couple of years traveling the country and seeing various battles across the south.

In 1866, Cathay decided to enter the army full-out, but as a man. At the time women were not allowed to enlist in the military (although some did in the manner that Cathay choose). It wouldn’t be until 1949 that women would officially be allowed to enlist in the US Army. Joining the military as a soldier would allow her to remain independent and earn an income.

She enlisted in the regular Army under the name of William Cathey on November 15, and was assigned to the 38th US Infantry regiment after she passed a medical exam. Sources differ whether this was required a the time or not, but evidently it did not matter. They believed her to be a healthy male. Her only confidants were a cousin and a friend who were in her regiment. The 38th was an all Black unit that had been formed that year and the various units were occasionally known as ‘Buffalo soldiers’.

They were called that because they were often assigned to posts in the Western United States protecting the white settlers from the Native Americans and various criminals taking advantage of them. African-Americans were not allowed to enlist in the regular army until legislation passed in 1866 allowed them. So ‘William Cathey’ was one of the first to formally enlist. The segregation of the military would last until 1948, when Henry S. Truman disbanded the practice and diversified the military.

She managed to continue with the regiment for almost two years without being discovered. She caught smallpox at one point, and the lingering health effects of this illness caused her to be hospitalised several times, all of which were documented in her records. Somehow despite the hospitalizations, she was not discovered till 1868 to be a woman. Once she was discovered, her commanding officer discharged her on October 14, 1868, filing it as a disability discharge. On the discharge papers, Cathay was still referred to as William and the Captain who discharged her claimed that “the origin of his infirmaries is unknown to me.” The Doctor added that her ‘condition dates prior to enlistment.’ They effectively ended her military career without admitting that the Military had managed to not catch on to her biological sex. While her later illness might have been limiting her ability to handle the job, one has to wonder if the discharge ‘condition’ was less being chronically ill and more about being born female.

Despite her discharge, Cathay was not finished with military life. She went to work as a cook once again at Fort Union for a short time. She then moved to Colorado and became a seamstress and might have opened a boarding house (though I found only one source that claimed this). She married, but it ended badly when her husband stole from her and she had him arrested. She continued to struggle with her health through the years.

In 1891, Cathay applied to get a disability pension after being released from the hospital after a year and a half stay.. The application listed her age as 41, which would give her a birth year of 1850, 6 years younger than she claimed to be on her enlistment form. Cathay suffered from diabetes and neuralgia. Due to her diabetes she had suffered amputations and was forced to walk with a cain. She dealt with deafness, which she blamed on contracting smallpox during her time in the military.

In September, a local doctor was sent to examine her by the Pension Bureau. More discrepancies occurred on his form. She was 2 inches shorter (possible due to aging), and 49, which makes her 2 years older than her enlistment birthdate of 1844. It is unclear if the doctor was competent and simply did not examine her fully trying to save time or was incompetent or not current as his report had medical inaccuracies. He looked for signs of Neuralgia in the joints and muscles. Neuralgia is an illness that affects the nervous system and this was known in 1801, long before Cathay claimed to have the problem. It would not have appeared physically in her joints or muscles.

Also despite reporting her amputations (she no longer had toes) he did not think to consider the reasons for the amputations, or that not having them would be a disability. Interestingly, though, the Pension Bureau did not reject the claim because of illegal enlistment (as they could have since women were still not allowed in the military) and instead recognized that Cathay William was William Cathey. They rejected it claiming she was not in fact disabled. This would be the last documented mention of Cathay.

Not much is known about when she died, but it is believed to be shortly after the visit of the military doctor. She was not included in the next census, so her death occurred sometime between 1892 and 1900. It is often listed as 1892 or 1893 as it is assumed that due to her condition and her financial problems due to being ill for so long she most likely died around that time.

She was buried with a wooden tomb marker, which has since deteriorated and has left her final resting spot a mystery in the present day.

Due to varying levels of record keeping, much of Cathay’s life is left to fill in by guessing, using the tidbits that are well documented to help fill out the missing pieces. As time goes by, more research is done in her life and more information is found. She has become the representative of the many women who joined the military and don’t have as documented a service or were found out sooner. It is estimated hundreds of women were in the military disguised as men during the Civil War, as with as the Revolutionary War before that.

She also has the legacy of a woman whose tenacity and determination took her to places that society forbade her due to her gender. She never hid from her past, either.

Wikipedia: Cathay Williams

Amazing Women in History: Cathay Williams

BufflaoSoldier.Net: Cathay Williams: Female Buffalo Soldier (with Documents)

US Army Profiles: Cathay Williams

Legends of America: Cathay Williams

Wounded Warrior Project: The Only Known Female Buffalo Soldier

Wikipedia: Neuralgia

History.Com: Who Were The Buffalo Soldiers?

 

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Master List

Women of History: Emmeline Pankhurst

Today’s Woman of history topic is one that was requested, and I actually was not aware of till it was mentioned.  I found out quite a bit from my minor looking into her life. Emmeline Pankhurst was an early 19th century political activist in Great Britain. In particular she is known for her strong militant ways of promoting her cause and for helping bring along the vote for women in the UK as well as improve various other social problems she discovered through out her life.

Emmeline was born Emmeline Goulden on July 15, 1858 (according to her birth certificate, she always claimed the 14th) in a Manchester suburb. She was born into a family familiar with political activism for several generations. Her parents were active in their community and passed that down to their children. This included their interest in woman’s suffrage.

Her education was not as involved as her brothers, as at the time it was felt it was better she learn to be an attractive prospect as a wife rather than be educated on the scale of her brothers. However, she was an avid reader, and her time at Ecole Nomale de Neuilly helped her expand her influences and knowledge base. Continue reading “Women of History: Emmeline Pankhurst”