“We may destroy all the men in America, and we shall still have all we can do to defeat the women.”
Lord Cornwallis, British general, and Washington’s nemesis.
In the fall of 1878, Deborah Samson, at the fiery age of 18, enlisted in the Continental Army…as a man. Spending the next three years as Robert Shirtliffe, Deborah did her part to secure liberty and freedom for America. She served in various capacities under Capt. Nathan Thayer and proved herself a capable, willing, and courageous Massachusetts soldier.
Talk about fight like a girl…
Never one to run from a battle, Deborah dove right in with the best and the bravest. She was shot once in the leg, nicked in the head by a British sword, then shot again in the other leg. All three times she refused medical attention so as not to have her ruse discovered. Unfortunately, she came down with a “brain fever” in 1781 and was treated by a Dr. Binney of Philadelphia. Imagine his surprise!
He forthwith moved Deborah to his own home for recovery and sent a note to Capt. Thayer. Upon her recovery, Deborah was called to General Washington’s office. The legends differ here on what exactly happened next. Some say she was asked to deliver papers to the General, at which point he gave her the papers of discharge. Other stories say she delivered the papers, was called back to pick up new dispatches, and then Gen. Washington handed her the discharge papers. What all the stories agree on is that Washington chose not to publicly reprimand or embarrass Deborah. He handed her the discharge papers, without comment, and also handed her the soldier’s pay due her, and a note of advice.
The note was lost to history, but knowing General Washington’s respect for women and his wry sense of humor, it probably said something to the effect of, “Now that you’ve shown my men how to fight, I think it is time you return to the duties of your fair sex. Thank you for your service to your country.”
Eventually, Deborah married a farmer named Gannet and had (naturally) three daughters. Ironically, she named the youngest one Patience.
Oh, yes, indeed, a true Lady in Defiance.
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Doing research for my new book, I came across an amazing story of a woman with a steel backbone … and ribs to match!
Juliet Constance Ewing was born in Ireland, date unknown. On September 17, 1839, she and her brother, William G. Ewing, entered Texas as immigrants. And it was women like her who gave the state its reputation.
Juliet had the misfortune to suffer firsthand Texas’ change in policy toward Indians. Under the earlier leadership of Sam Houston, the Republic had few problems with the tribes, as he understood and respected them. His successor, Mirabeau B. Lamar, did not. He promised the extermination of the Comanches.
On July 18, 1840, Juliet married station manager Hugh Oren Watts. This same year, talks with the Comanches broke down and 35 braves were massacred by US troops. The tribe hit the warpath with a vengeance. Shockingly brutal attacks ensued, ending with the “Great Comanche Raid” that Texans still talk about today.
Just like Sherman would march through Georgia decades later, the Comanche thundered across Texas, burning, scalping, raping, and pillaging. When they attacked the small community of Linnville, where Juliet and William resided, the town was completely unprepared. Panicked, running for their lives, the townsfolk made a bee line for the boats in the bay, thinking to float out of reach of the marauders.
Only, William suddenly realized he’d left behind a gold watch. And went back for it. Juliet in tow. I don’t know which one was dumber.
William was killed and scalped. Juliet was taken captive. The Comanche spent most of the day pillaging the community, setting ransacked buildings on fire, and, no kidding, trying to figure out how to get Juliet out of her steel-boned corset.
Running out of time and exasperated by the infernal garment, the Indians tied Juliet to a tree and shot an arrow into her breast. Only, the steel ribbing and thick material slowed the arrow down enough so that it didn’t kill her. Merely lodged in her breast bone.
From his eye witness report, Robert Hall recalled, “A little further on I found Mrs. Watts. They had shot an arrow at her breast, but her steel corset saved her life. It had entered her body, but Isham Good and I fastened a big pocket knife on the arrow and pulled it out. She possessed great fortitude, for she never flinched, though we could hear the breastbone crack when the arrow came out.”
Clearly, Juliet was one tough customer. This should have been a big hint to her second husband.
She married Dr. James Stanton in 1842, but divorced him five years later – the first divorce in the new state of Texas. Oddly, the woman demanded nothing short of complete fidelity from her husband. He didn’t see it her way and for the disagreement, got to hand over to her the hotel the couple had opened. One of his better decisions.
Juliet’s third, and, thankfully, final, husband was a Dr. Richard Fretwell. They were married until her death in 1878.
I’ve no doubt Juliet was buried wearing her corset. Steel ribs to match her steel spine.
Check out my books below to find more ladies with the fighting spirit!
Phoebe Wilson Couzins was, to say the least, a trailblazer for women. She was one of the first female lawyers in the United States, the first female U.S. marshal, and, not surprising, an outspoken supporter of the suffragist movement. But temperance, not so much …
Phoebe was born on September 8, 1842 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father John E. D. Couzins was an architect, builder, and a natural leader. Traits he passed to his daughter. During the Civil War, John served as the city’s chief of police and sought to keep Missouri in the Union. Adaline, Phoebe’s mother, was a member of the Ladies’ Union Aid Society in St. Louis and volunteered as a battlefield nurse.
After the war, Phoebe, inspired by her parents, joined the St. Louis Woman Suffrage Association. The inability of a woman to vote incensed her, considering all the things a woman could do. She made a name for herself in the organization and, encouraged by a family friend, applied and was admitted to Washington University Law School in St. Louis.
In 1871, Phoebe became the first female law graduate from GWU! She practiced law for two months but the suffragette movement called her name. She began traveling across the country to give speeches in favor of women’s rights.
In 1884, Phoebe’s father was appointed U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Missouri and he swore her in as one of his deputies. When he died three years later, she served as the interim U.S. marshal, appointed by President Grover Cleveland. She was the first woman to serve in the position.
Not interested in being a lawman, though, she eventually moved to Washington, DC. She made a modest living as a writer, but maintained her involvement with the women’s rights movement. New blood entered into the suffragette arena, though, and Phoebe’s contributions, as well her Old Iron Pants attitude, tended to alienate the more politically-savvy ladies. Not to mention, Phoebe liked her high balls, and many of the suffragettes were passionate about the evils of alcohol. Hence, these last years were stormy ones for Phoebe. She hung in there, fighting the good fight, while, ironically, working as a lobbyist for a brewery.
Phoebe died in St. Louis in 1913 and was buried wearing her US marshal’s badge. Here’s to you, Phoebe!
By Heather Blanton
By Heather Blanton
Recently, many cities and towns across America held municipal elections. The turn-out is abysmally low for these. If you did not vote for your mayor or town council, Abigail Scott Duniway might just have a few choice words for you.
Abigail was the second daughter in a family of nine children. In 1852 she and her parents emigrated to Oregon from Illinois. In 1853, after teaching school for a bit, she married Benjamin Duniway. The couple would have six children.
Benjamin was a decent farmer but not much of a businessman. They sold their first farm in Clackamas County, OR and moved to a new one in Lafayette. During this time, Benjamin co-signed on a note for a friend, putting his farm up for collateral. Abigail, to say the least, was not on board with this plan. The friend defaulted and the Duniways lost their farm. In the throes of eviction, financial chaos, and finding a new place to live, Benjamin was severely disabled in a wagon accident, and upkeep of the family fell to Abigail.
She ran a boarding school and taught for a spell, and eventually opened her own business. In her attempts to keep a roof over her family’s head, Abigail was frustrated on occasion by the necessity to involve Benjamin in even simple legal decisions. Being the man in the house, his signature was often required on documents.
For five years Abigail ran a millinery. She heard countless stories there of other women disenfranchised by the legal system, powerless to fight for their rights, especially in regards to personal property. Just based on her own experiences, it’s easy to see why she thought the system was stupid. Hence, she became loudly and eloquently vocal about the injustices. Recognizing her passion, Benjamin encouraged Abigail to open a newspaper focused on women’s rights and suffrage. The Duniways knew that without the right to vote, nothing would ever change for the women of Oregon.
Interestingly, Abigail’s brother Harvey was the editor for The Oregonian and the siblings butted heads, or columns, vehemently over voting rights for women. Harvey was against them and his opposition was instrumental in seeing the motions defeated time and again.
But the women of Oregon persisted. In 1912 the state finally passed a women’s suffrage amendment. The governor himself asked Abigail to write the Equal Suffrage Proclamation sharing the news.
She was 78 years young.
Lilian Heath. Such a demure name.
She was anything but.
In the 1880’s, Lilian’s pa got her a job assisting Dr. Thomas Maghee, the physician
in the wide-open rail road town of Rawlins, WY. A petite little thing still in high school, Lilian was pretty fearless, but not stupid. She dressed like a man and carried a .32 when she went on calls late at night. She and the doc did everything from deliver babies to reconstruct a man’s face after his failed suicide attempt.
The nursing position set Lilian’s destiny. She graduated high school, and, with her father’s blessing and Dr. Maghee’s recommendation, headed off to the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Keokuk, Iowa. She was one of only of three women in the class. After completing her training, she returned to Rawlins to practice medicine and was well-received … by the men folk. The women in town were another story. Catty, and jealous, they whispered behind her back, accused her of being a know-it-all, a few even refused to pay Lilian for services rendered. Lilian’s mother Calista wasn’t thrilled with the vocation either, believing her daughter had over-stepped her bounds as a woman.
Maybe, but if a man lay dying of a gunshot wound 30 or 40 miles way, Lilian put on her big girl breeches and made the ride.
Clearly, being a trained female physician was a bad thing, because you could, you know, save lives.
Lilian met her husband, Louis Nelson, in Rawlins and they were married in 1898. He was a painter and a decorator. Go figure. Lilian practiced medicine for fifteen years and then quietly retired, though she kept her medical license current much, much longer than that.
Unfortunately, you can’t read any article about Lilian that doesn’t mention her “connection” to an outlaw. In 1881, while Lilian was still in high school and a candy-striper, for all intents, Big Nose George Parrot was lynched for murdering a deputy. When no one claimed the body, Doctor Maghee stepped up. Curious to see if the bandit’s brain was somehow deformed, he dissected the man’s head, in the name of science. Lilian assisted with the autopsy and was given Big Nose George’s skull cap as a souvenir. She kept it for years, using it for everything from a door stop to a pipe holder.
Reporters loved to mention that story, as if it was her greatest achievement.
My guess is, there were a few other heads she would have liked to use as doorstops.
But she didn’t let the claws or the snipes get to her. Lilian never gave in, never backed down, never lost faith. I say thanks for paving the way!
Please check out my author page on Amazon to find more strong women of the West!
Emma Daugherty was born in Dallas, TX in 1871. No one would have guessed this delightful, petite child with the quick wit would become the nation’s first female sheriff.
And why does it not surprise me the nations’s first female sheriff was a sheriff in Texas?
Emma started her professional career quietly enough as a school teacher. In the meantime, John Riley Bannister, born in 1854, enlisted as a Texas Ranger in the 1880’s. He assisted in the delivery and/or capture of famous outlaws John Wesley Hardin and Sam Bass. After a few years, he resigned and worked variously as a rail road detective, cattle inspector, and Treasury agent. His first wife died in 1892, leaving the lawman with five young children to raise.
To his credit, he didn’t run out and marry the first gal he could. Two years later, John married Emma and took her away from her classroom duties. Over the next ten years, the Banisters would try their hands at various professions, including farming, but law enforcement was the vocation her husband knew best. He made time for his young wife, though, and together they added four children to the five already in tow. Emma loved writing and somehow found time to work as a correspondent for the San Angelo Standard Times.
John was elected Sheriff of Coleman County, TX in 1914. The family, all eleven of them, moved to an apartment on the first floor of the jail. Along with her work as wife and mother and reporter, Emma assisted her husband as his office deputy. I.e., she did all the paperwork. They must have worked well together as John was elected to a second term.
In 1918, though, he suffered a stroke and died, only a week after winning a primary election for sheriff for a possible third term. The election results, however, were close, requiring a runoff among the three candidates. The county officials asked Emma if she would serve out the remaining months of her husband’s term while the campaigning continued and she agreed. Without any real fanfare, she became the first female sheriff in the United States. An intrepid reporter from the New York World picked up on the story and for fifteen minutes, Emma was famous.
She did not, however, see herself as such. Grieving the loss of a husband she loved, Emma stepped down at the end of her husband’s term and returned to the farm. In her three months as sheriff, she never carried a gun. A short, slightly pudgy woman, she figured if a man was intent on causing trouble, he’d just take it away from her anyway.
Emma passed away at the ripe old age of 84.
Copyright 2015 Heather Blanton
Guest story today is from Maria Tonseth!
My dad and his three brothers grew up on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio.
They were all close in age and were inseparable, as if they were more of
best friends rather than brothers. Everyone around town knew the brothers
and often referred to them as the “Tonseth rascals,” because more than
likely they were getting into trouble from playing pranks of the neighbors.
My dad’s biggest dream was to play a prank on his 5th grade teacher, Ms.
During a cold and snowy December, the four brothers built a snow fort and
filled it with snowballs to launch at cars as they drove by. While rolling
the perfect snowballs, my dad came up with the great idea to stack hundreds
of snowballs on Ms. Garrison’s car, who lived three doors down from
their house. After many treks to her house to cover it with hundreds,
yes hundreds, of snowballs, the “Tonseth rascals” admired their finished
product and quickly ran home to celebrate their accomplishment. The
brothers couldn’t wait to tell their friends at school what they did to Ms.
But right as the brothers were walking into their driveway, their mother
and Ms. Garrison were waiting on the porch bundled up in scarves and
jackets and drinking hot chocolate. They were laughing away as the “Tonseth rascals” stood there: jaws opened and dumbfounded. My grandmother was a teacher and friends with Ms. Garrison, and she had come over to enjoy hot cocoa and catch up on their lives. Instead, she was entertained by secretly watching the four brothers stack hundreds of snowballs on her car. Needless to say, she made just my father pick every single snowball off her car, and then my grandmother allowed his brothers to throw them at him. Guess the prank was on my dad.
Today’s Lady in Defiance is submitted by Mary Margaret Smith
Back in the early 50’s, my grandma was a young divorcee with an 8 year old
daughter by her first marriage, and my granddaddy was a young widower.
When they met, my grandma had taken a bookkeeping class at a local college
and her teacher recommended her to my granddaddy, who had recently returned
home from the war and started a furniture business. He hired her and they
soon began dating, often going out after work.
However, Burlington was a pretty small town at the time, and in a year or
two my grandma heard a rumor that, even though he was supposedly dating my
grandma exclusively, he was dating local schoolteacher on the weekends!
She found the rumor to be true, and without even saying anything to my granddaddy, she
decided to leave town. She had a sister who had moved out to Hawaii
several years before, so she packed up her whole home and life, and had all
her possessions shipped in crates to Hawaii. She and my aunt flew out the
My granddaddy figured out what had happened and managed to get hold of her
when she was in St. Louis for a night with an uncle of hers. He told her
he had broken up with the other woman and begged her to come back, but she
refused. She told him, “If you love me that much, you’ll have to come all
the way to Hawaii and get me!”
So, my grandma and her young daughter flew all the way to Hawaii. The day
after their arrival, my granddaddy appeared on her doorstep! He told her that he
had been a complete idiot and proposed right there. They were married in a
quaint little church in Hawaii two days later, and then turned right around and headed
back to North Carolina! In fact, they were married and left Hawaii before the
crates of all my grandma’s possessions had even arrived there!
My grandparents remained married the rest of their lives, and I really have
never seen two people more in love, but I’ve also never really heard a
story of a marriage so unique as this one! It’s also pretty scary to think
how close they came to losing each other forever, but whenever my
granddaddy told the story, he insisted that he would never have let that
happen. And up until his death a few years ago, my grandma would never
tell the story without jokingly reminding granddaddy how much he had goofed
up when he tried double-crossing her!
Mary Margaret Smith
“No one will vote for her. She’s a woman.”
And so started a joke that launched a sleepy Kansas town to international fame—as the first municipality in America to elect a woman mayor.
In 1882, Susanna Madora “Dora” Kinsey Salter moved with her husband Lewis to the quiet little town of Argonia. The couple managed a hardware store while Lewis sought the opportunity to read law with a local attorney. When things fell into place for him, Dora’s parents moved to town as well to take over the mercantile. Her father, Oliver Kinsey was elected mayor of the hamlet and husband Lewis Salter became the City Clerk.
Though busy having and raising children, Dora’s Christians convictions compelled her to support the Christian Women’s Temperance Union. This group was one of the less radical suffragist and temperance organizations in the country, as it mixed Christian morals with equality and compassion. But it was a group that decried alcohol, which didn’t win its members any friends in the drinking population. As a joke, a group of imbibers put Dora’s name on the ballot for mayor in ‘87, knowing she would earn a pitifully embarrassing number of votes.
These men neglected to tell Dora’s husband of the prank. Lewis was not amused when he went to vote and discovered his wife’s name at the top of his ballot.
Even more shocking, Dora won with over 2/3 of the town’s votes.
She accepted the office and Lewis, who again won City Clerk, regained his good humor. He often joked about being “married to the mayor.” The election made international news and a shining star out of the 27-year-old Dora, but it did not ignite her political passions. A year into her term, she announced she wouldn’t run for re-election.
By all accounts, this determined young lady was a fine parliamentarian, wise legislator, and dignified public servant. She went out of her way to work with the all-male town council, carefully soothing over ruffled rooster feathers. But she would probably tell you her finest hour as mayor occurred when she delivered her fifth child.
She loved her town and her causes, but she loved her family more. Though she stayed an active member of the CWTU for many years, she never again “ran” for public office, to the dismay of many suffragists. Perhaps because too many of them expected Dora to think “their” way. Putting family above voting rights offended some big names in the movement. Carrie Nation once scolded Dora for heading off to a football game instead of a meeting. Dora replied, “Not go to the game? Why, I have a son on the team!”
Now that’s A Lady in Defiance.
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
In light of all the racial tension boiling in Ferguson, I thought it would be uplifting to remind us that, even in the Wild West, peace among different races has not always been elusive. Mattie Bost Bell Castner is a wonderful example.
Born a slave in Newton, NC in 1848, she and her family moved to St. Louis after the Emancipation Proclamation for a fresh start. Mattie worked as a nanny, domestic servant, and hotel maid. Eager to expand her horizons, though, she moved to Fort Benton, MT and opened a laundry. Her business did quite well and the former slave could have called herself a successful, independent businesswoman. Sharp, wise, well-spoken, and pretty to boot, Mattie caught the eye of John Castner. Castner, too, was a hard-working entrepreneur who ran his own freight business. He had scouted much of the territory and had a particular fascination with Belt Creek. Dreaming of bigger pay offs than the freight company, he had filed several mining claims along the creek’s ford, which is near present day Great Falls.
Recognizing the fact that life in Montana is not for the faint of heart, Castner was taken with Mattie’s grit and determination to succeed in such a tough environment. Defying convention, the white man took as his wife the lovely, dark, former slave. The two were stronger together than they could have ever been apart. They dug in and went to work, building what would become the town of Belt. Castner pursued his interests in freighting and coal mining, and opened a mercantile. Matty opened the Castner Hotel, in the center of the booming little mining town. A place known for good food, exquisite service, and plenty of smiles.
Perhaps because of her background, this former slave was renowned territory-wide for her generosity and compassion. She was always ready to help out new families in town with advice, connections, and donations of supplies and cash. She became known as “the mother of Belt.” In the meantime, her husband served as the town’s mayor.
The mixed race couple had a good thing going and blessed others as much as they could, building a tight community, and living a life together that was envied by most.
When Mattie died in 1920, she left her fortune of $25,000 to charity.
A life begun in slavery could have made this woman dark and twisted. Instead, Mattie became a true Lady in Defiance. She lived in defiance of bitterness, hatred, and racism to leave behind a legacy of peace, love, and unity. Well done, Mattie. Well done.
copyright 2014 Heather Blanton