Women's Role in Missouri History, 1821-1971

from the Official Manual of the State of Missouri, 1971-72
James Kirkpatrick, Secretary of State

Heroines of the War
Lincoln's Woman "Cabinet Member"


Heroines of War

It was the Civil War in the North, the War Between the States in the South.  Men fought it but women played an important part.

Some were little known heroines...Mrs. Sarah L. Everson of Commerce, Mo. who was in a crowd of onlookers when the steamer City of Alton started to shore into a Confederate ambush.  She ran out, screaming to alert the Union forces and they sailed away.

Another Union sympathizer gave a barbecue for Confederate troops camped near her home, then notified General Thomas Ewing that the road was unguarded and his troops could pass through.  And Mrs. Susan A. Jackson saved Sedalia from destruction by carrying a surrender flag (a sheet nailed to a pole) into the face of Confederate fire.

There was Molly Jennings who risked capture and death in the Grand River to aid the Southern cause.  Governor Jackson sent a message to General Slack by way of Colonel Jennings of Chillicothe.  Slack had gone on to Spring Hill and Jennings had to get the message to him.  His daughter, Molly, an excellent horsewoman rode at hot haste to catch up with Slack and deliver Jackson's message.

General Slack and his fleeing soldiers had crossed the river on the ferry and as soon as the last soldier was over, sank the ferry.  When Molly reached the river, there was no way to cross.  Undaunted, she put the message in her hair to keep it from getting wet, put her horse in the stream and swam across the river.  She overtook Slack, gave him the message and headed her tired horse back to Chillicothe.

Mary Phelps, wife of the 23rd Governor of the State is remembered for her daring, going into the battlefield to treat the wounded at Wilson's Creek.  She managed to get General Nathaniel Lyon's body into her house and she and her servants stood an overnight vigil, listening to catcalls from Southern soldiers who vowed to "cut out his heart."  Later she started an orphanage for the orphans of both Northern and Southern soldiers in Springfield, Mo.

Two heroic characters of this war time were Mrs. Mary Ann Boyce Edgar and Mrs. Margaret A. E. McLure.  Mrs. Edgar, born in Alabama, was one of a group of women who met in July 1861, a few days after the battle of Bull Run to plan how they could help the national government.  The Fremont Relief Society was set up from her residence.  As the work increased, both the Western Sanitary Commission (often called the forerunner to Red Cross) and the Ladies Union Society were developed.

Mrs. Margaret McLure, Northern-born--from Pennsylvania--believed firmly in the justice of the Southern cause, and was so vigorous in its behalf that she was imprisoned in her St. Louis home.  In the spring of 1863, she and other women who were Southern sympathizers, were "deported," put on a boat and sent down the river to the Confederate lines.

Exiled from home, she devoted herself to the camps and hospitals, doing all she could to relieve and comfort Confederate soldiers.  Returned to St. Louis, she became a leading spirit in the Daughters of the Confederacy and the relief work for widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers.

There is an ironic twist to the story of these two women, the Southern-born Union sympathizer and the Northern-born Confederate.  Twenty years after the War, the daughter of one married the son of the other.

A great many women aided, perhaps less heroically but equally stoically in the behind the scenes work of relief.  Rebecca Naylor Hazard, who had moved to St. Louis with her husband, Wm. T. Hazard in 1850, had been instrumental in forming the Girls Industrial homes--for the many beggar girls who roamed the streets in early day melting pot St. Louis of the 1850s.

With the outbreak of war, she helped organize the Union Aid Society, of which Mrs. Alfred Clapp was the first president.  In the winter of 1864-65, Mrs. Hazard and five other women were appointed to cooperate with the Western Sanitary Commission to raise money.  The result was the famous Sanitary Fair, which brought in more than $500,000 for the relief of sick and wounded soldiers.

A staunch believer in woman's suffrage, Mrs. Hazard was one of the founders of the Woman Suffrage Association of Missouri, on May 8, 1867 and in 1878 served as president of the Woman Suffrage Association.  In addition, she was vice president for 20 years of the Missouri branch of the Association for the Advancement of Women, an organizer of the St. Louis School of Design and a worker in the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

There were other relief agencies started by women during the war:  The Ladies Freedmen Association which met the needs of black refugees; the Ladies National League, organized with 1200 members at a mass meeting at Mercantile Library in the summer of 1864.  Mrs. Truman Post was its president and members wore a star as their badge of membership.  Elizabeth Hanley Arnot began a Methodist orphanage in this same period.

These were the lesser known women, but three women of this period became so famous that each has inspired one or more historical novels.

Lincoln's Woman "Cabinet Member"

One was Lincoln's leading woman spy, often referred to as an unofficial member of his cabinet-- Anna Ella Carroll.  One of her biographers, Marjorie Barstow Greenbie in "My Fair Lady," wrote of her:  "Hers was the Greatest Course of the war...she got no pay and did the work that made others famous."  And Matilda Gage suffragist said, "While Grant was being feted and acclaimed the great General of the Civil War, his most honored and spectacular achievement was the work of Anna Carroll."

Anna Ella Carroll was born in the East, but her work for Lincoln was performed in St. Louis where she lived with an uncle, Thomas Carroll, a prominent attorney and other family members, all of them rabid Southerners.

Assigned by Lincoln to write a pamphlet explaining the president's war powers under the constitution, she did most of her work at the Mercantile Library, taking the staff into her confidence as to her Union sympathies.  Her relatives, however, knew nothing of it and with them she played the role of a Southern lady.

The president was so pleased with her work that he sent her back to St. Louis, then under martial law.  This time she stayed at the Everett Hotel.

She spent her days, hobnobbing with pilots and river boat hands on the docks.  Before long, she was suggesting to Lincoln that the Army be diverted away form the Mississippi and centered in Tennessee.  She prepared another pamphlet outlining her Tennessee Plan, which Grant subsequently used with success.  Many have said that Anna Ella Carroll at this time was really the Secretary of War.

Her work was paid for almost entirely out of her own pocket, although Lincoln had promised to reimburse her.  He was preparing a paper about her to be read in Congress when he was killed.

The paper was never presented and Anna Ella Carroll's work was never properly recognized.  Some congressmen feared that calling attention to a woman in this way would start a campaign for women's rights.  Others were already grooming Grant for the presidency and did not want to detract from his luster.  Her honor was to come later in the fictional accounts of her life.

Another woman whose life inspired a popular novel was Jessie Benton Fremont, heroine of Irving Stone's "Immortal Wife."  Her father was Senator Thomas Hart Benton, her husband General John Charles Fremont, who had the unusual honor of being nominated for the presidency twice, on different tickets.

[fremont line drawing here]Jessie Benton lived in St. Louis until her father was elected to the Senate and the family moved to Washington, where she became his private secretary.  There she met Fremont.  It was love at first sight; although the Bentons discouraged the romance with the young lieutenant, Jessie married him in 1841.  Fremont became popular for his exploring expeditions into the west and by 1856, was so magnetic a personality that he was nominated for the presidency, in the election which James Buchanan won.

As a General in divided St. Louis, he became a controversial figure and, although his wife traveled to Washington to intercede with Lincoln, he was relieved of his command.  In November 1862, St. Louis held a magnificent demonstration in his honor and after a mile long torchlight parade, he was presented with a jeweled sword.  Later, he was reinstated and given a new assignment and still later ran again unsuccessfully for the presidency.


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