National Women’s History Month: Unsung Heroes 

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National Women’s History Month: Unsung Heroes
March Women Heritage Month, handwriting in a desktop calendar against abstract paper landscape

By Rebecca Fending 

The month of March is National Women’s History Month. Women tend to be unsung heroes, taken for granted or largely forgotten. However, this month, we honor and revisit those who deserve to be exalted for their accomplishments.  

Mary Bickerdyke 

Described as an “energetic heroine,” Mary Ann Bickerdyke set out on the mission of efficiency in caring for wounded Civil War soldiers. A Union volunteer physician wrote home about the unsanitary and chaotic military hospitals at Cairo, IL, citizens of Galesburg, IL, collected $500 worth of supplies, and selected Bickerdyke to deliver them as she was a botanic physician by trade. 

Mary Bickerdyke

She stayed in Cairo as an unofficial nurse and organized the hospitals, gaining Ulysses S. Grant’s appreciation. When Grant’s army moved down the Mississippi River, Bickerdyke followed and became the Chief of Nursing. 

She insisted on scrubbing every surface in sight, forced an improvement on the level of care and reported drunken physicians. Though she antagonized male physicians, staff and soldiers alike, in the name of better patient care, she won most of her fights. 

Cathay Williams 

Ms. Williams was the real-life version of Mulan. She was a female soldier who enlisted in the army under the pseudonym “William Cathay.” She was the first African-American woman to enlist and the only one documented as having served in the United States Army posing as a man. 

Cathay Williams

When the Civil War was over, Williams wanted to maintain her financial independence after being freed from slavery. In November 1866, she enlisted as William Cathay in the 38th U.S. Infantry, Company A in St. Louis. At that time, only a cursory medical examination was required, and she was quickly found to be fit for duty. There were only two people that knew her true identity– a cousin and a friend, who faithfully kept her secret. 

Phoebe Couzins 

One of the first female lawyers in the states, Phoebe Couzins was also the first female appointed as a U.S. Marshal and a well-known suffragist. 

She explained her motivation for earning a law degree, claiming to be spurred “solely by a desire to open new paths for women.” Phoebe was admitted to the bar associations of Missouri, Arkansas, Utah and Kansas, and the Dakota Territory federal courts. 

You can learn about more of the incredible women, both past and present, who have forever changed our world for the better at womenshistorymonth.gov. You can also join virtual events and book club meetings that examine iconic women in America’s history.  

Information and portraits from legendsofamerica.com 

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