Elizabeth Piper Ensley – Organizing African-American Suffragists

Elizabeth Piper Ensley c. 1900, Denver Public Library (source)

Elizabeth Piper Ensley c. 1900, Denver Public Library (source)

Yesterday, I posted an article on Facebook by Lynn Yaeger at Vogue entitled The African-American Suffragists History Forgot. It was a good, short article which gave names of a number of African-American women involved in the suffrage movement, including a couple I have never heard of. One of these is Elizabeth Piper Ensley, a woman who had extensive contacts in the east where the suffrage movement was bigger news, but who did her work in the west.

Not much is known about Elizabeth’s childhood. She was born around 1848 in the Caribbean Islands and was well-educated, probably to the level of a college degree. One source says that she received part of her education in Germany and France. Whether abroad or at home, when she moved to Boston in the 1870s, she made good use of her education by teaching school and helping to establish a library. She also got involved in suffrage and social reform groups active in Boston at the time.

In 1882, Elizabeth married Howell N Ensley and they moved to Washington D.C where they were both associated with Howard University, possibly as teachers. Some time before 1888, they decided to travel west and settled in Denver, Colorado. It was a period of economic depression in the area with a lot of unemployed miners moving to Denver with their families. Elizabeth got involved in reform efforts using her contacts in Boston and Washington to assist in relief efforts for the poor.

Around the same time, the Colorado Non-Partisan Equal Suffrage Association was reorganized with a desire to put women’s suffrage on the November 1893 ballot. The Colorado State Constitution of 1876  gave women the right to vote, but only in local school elections. The Equal Suffrage Association was originally founded at that time to work toward suffrage in state-wide elections, but had ceased functioning.

The Association reorganized with meager resources, just $25 and Elizabeth became treasurer. She took on a leadership role in two areas, first in developing the financial backing needed for the campaign, but probably more important to her, she organized black women. Together, they influenced the all-male electorate to vote in favor of the amendment and women in Colorado won the right to vote on November 7, 1893.

To Elizabeth, having the right to vote wasn’t enough. She soon organized the Women’s League to educate black women on the issues, why, and how to vote. During the next year, women helped to vote into the legislature a black man, lawyer Joseph Stuart, and three women, the first female state legislators in the country. She reported on the election in an article written for Women’s Era, the first monthly newspaper published by and for African-American women, founded and edited by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin.

In 1904, she founded the Colorado Association of Colored Women’s Clubs with a focus on community and education programs. In her club work, she also served as the only black member of the Colorado Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Elizabeth died in 1919 and was buried in Denver’s Riverside Cemetery. In 2005, Sheba R. Wheeler of The Denver Post reported on a project which examined burial records at Riverside Cemetery in Denver. Riverside is one of the oldest cemeteries in Denver and the records proved to be a goldmine of information about the African-Americans living in the area in the late 19th century. Among them were the records of Elizabeth and her family. Although sources say that the Ensleys moved to Denver in 1890, Elizabeth’s husband died in 1888 in Denver. The couple had two children, Roger G. Ensley (1883-1915) and Charlotte Ensley Britton (1885-1948) who are also buried at Riverside.

The history of African-American women may have been forgotten, or suppressed, in the past, but hopefully this is changing.


“The African-American Suffragists History Forgot” by Lynn Yaeger, Vogue
Elizabeth Piper Ensley, Autry National Center of the American West
Elizabeth Piper Ensley at Find A Grave
Elizabeth Piper Ensley, Women of the West Museum
Denver cemetery’s data “very valuable” to state” by Sheba R. Wheeler, The Denver Post

The Assassination of Empress Myeongseong of Korea

Empress Myeongseong of Korea (source)

Empress Myeongseong of Korea (source)

On October 8, 1895, Empress Myeongseong of Korea, known as Queen Min during her lifetime, was assassinated for political reasons. She was the first official wife of King Gojong, the King of Joseon and the first emperor of Korea. After the first Sino-Japanese War, Queen Min advocated ties between Korea and Russia in an attempt to reduce Japanese influence. Yi Ha-eung, the Heungseon Daewongun (King Gojong’s father and regent during his minority), orchestrated several failed rebellions in an attempt to remove her from influence before eventually achieving success.

In 1863 when King Cheoljong of Joseon died, the Grand Royal Dowager Queen Sinjeong with Yi Ha-eung a member of an obscure branch of the Yi clan managed to have Yi Myeongbok, his son, crowned King Gojong of Joseon. Yi Myeongbok was only 11 years old so Yi-Ha-eung was given the title Heungseon Daewongun and power to act as regent. He proved to be a wise ruler, eliminating corruption in the government, revising laws, and reforming military techniques.

When Gojong turned 15, the search for a wife began. She had to be beautiful, healthy, and of only an ordinary level of education. It was also essential that she have no close relatives who could make a claim on the throne. The daughter of Min Chirok of the Yeoheung Min clan met these qualifications. Born on October 19, 1851, by the age of eight both of Min’s parents had died and she was living in the House of Gamgodang. She was also of sufficiently noble birth, both Daewongun’s wife and mother were from the same clan and it was also the source of two previous Queen consorts.

The selection process was exacting, but after a final interview with the Daewongun, Min married Gojong on March 20, 1866. At 16, she was so slight that a court lady was assigned to hold up the traditional wig worn by brides at royal weddings. But if they thought Min was weak because of her small stature, they were wrong. Officials soon found out that the new queen was an ambitious woman. Rather than participating in lavish parties and afternoon teas, she spent her time reading and furthering her education in areas such as history, science, and politics.

Eventually, Min began to take an active role in politics. She also gave birth to a son who sadly died four days after his birth. Seeing the danger that the Queen posed, Daewongun took this opportunity to accuse her of being unable to bear a healthy male heir and declared the son of a concubine, Lee Gwi-in, as the official crown prince. But Min had also been forming a secret faction against the Daewongun. With their help, she presented a formal impeachment to the Royal Council of Administration. By this time, Gojong was old enough to rule in his own right and the Council forced Heungseon Daewongun into retirement. Min also took this opportunity to banish Lee Gwi-in and her son, stripping them of royal titles.

During the 1870s, through various envoys and a show of Japanese naval force, Korean officials signed the Ganghwa Treaty in 1876 opening Korea to Japaneses trade. The balance of power was shifting in Asia with changes occuring in China, Russia, and Japan. Gojong and Min sent fact finding missions to Japan to determine its degree of westernization and plans for Korea. Min hoped to open Korea to western technology, but limit the control of Japan in the country. The majority of the Royal Council, however, was strictly isolationist.

Gyeongbokgung Palace where Queen Min died (source)

Gyeongbokgung Palace where Queen Min died (source)

In 1881, Min and Gojong sent another fact finding mission to Japan. As a result, the Queen reorganized the government, creating various bureaus to deal with foreign relations, commerce, and the military. One goal was to import western technology, specifically to modernize military weapons and techniques. This was met with opposition and in September of that year a plot was uncovered to overthrow the Queen’s faction and put one of Daewongun’s sons on the throne.

Over the next few years, there were several attempts to overthrow the Queen’s influence. She was pro-China and pro-gradual westernization. Others were in favor of immediate westernization and willing to use Japanese influence to achieve it. Twice Gojong signed treaties with the Japanese reimbursing them for losses during coup attempts. In both cases, Min countered by making agreements with the Chinese.

With peace established in 1885, Min began to achieve some of her goals. A palace school was established for children of the elite with courses taught in English. The first all-girl’s school was founded, giving Korean girls a right to an education for the first time. Both of these institutions were headed by Protestant missionaries as Min was much more tolerant of other religions than her father-in-law had been. Their success brought other missionaries, both Protestant and Catholic, which introduced changes in the areas of medicine and music as well. Although Min never converted, she like many of the ideas that came with the western influence.

Military modernization continued with the help of the Americans, Trade became firmly established not only with the Japanese, but with China and other western nations, and the currency was stabilized. Modern agriculture methods and machines were imported and telegraph lines were installed between Korea, China, and Japan.

But there were external influences outside of Min and Gojong’s control. After the defeat of the Chinese in the Sino-Japanese war, Min sought help from Russia to block Japanese influence. Once again the Japanese reached out to Daewongun to attempt to remove her from power. This time they were successful.

Early on the morning of the 8th, troops loyal to the Daewongun attacked the Gyeongbokgung Palace, overpowered the royal guard, and admitted a group of Japanese assassins allegedly recruited by Miura Gorō, the Japanese Minister to Korea at the time. Three women were killed. When it was determined which one was Queen Min, her body was burned and her ashes scattered. The incident prompted international criticism, anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea, and the recall of Miura to Japan. Miura and the military personal involved were tried in Japan, but found not-guilty on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

King Gojong and the crown prince took refuge in the Russian legation. After Daewongun’s return to power, with the encouragement of Japanese officials, he presented a proposal to lower Min’s status posthumously from Queen consort to commoner. Although it appears that Gojong was always swayed by others, in this case he took a strong stand and refused to sign. He supposedly said, “I would rather slit my wrists and let them bleed than disgrace the woman who saved this kingdom.”

Over the next two years, Japanese influence was reduced and in October 1897 King Gojong returned to the palace and proclaimed the founding of the Korean Empire. He had Min’s remains recovered and properly entombed in in Namyangju, Gyeonggi, South Korea. Instead of having her status reduced, Queen Min was declared Empress Myeongseong of Korea posthumously.

Funeral of Empress Myeongseong in 1897 (source)

Funeral of Empress Myeongseong in 1897 (source)

Further Reading
Empress Myeongseong at Wikipedia
Queen Min of Joseon Korea at About Education
Empress Myeongseong Assassinated at the Sword of Japanese Killers, Body then Burned: Will This Established Theory Be Overturned?“, The Kyunghyang Shinmum
Consort Profile: Empress Myeongseong of Korea, at The Mad Monarchist
The Sobering Truth of Empress Myeongseong’s Killing, The Chosunilbo

Khutulun: Wrestling Warrior Shero

This post originally appeared on one of my favorite blogs, Sheroes of History, and was written by the blog’s founder Naomi Wilcox-Lee. I hope you enjoy it and check out the other great women on the site.

Khutulun wrestling a challenger, a miniture c. 1410

Khutulun wrestling a challenger, a miniature c. 1410 (source)

I first read about KHUTULUN in an article called ‘7 of the Most Amazing Women You’ve Never Heard Of’ which is what first started me thinking about doing this blog. And indeed until that point I had never heard of this wrestling, warrior, princess.

Khutulun lived in a country called Mongolia over 800 years ago. Her name means ‘moonlight’, and her father, Kaidu, was a powerful ruler whose kingdom stretched far and wide across Central Asia.

Now Khutulun had some pretty impressive relatives; she was great-great-grandaughter of the fearsome invader Ghengis Khan, and niece to the equally ruthless Khublai Khan. And while it seems she certainly carried the family gene  for fearlessness, her family connections didn’t do her or her father any good – in fact it was her cousin Khubilai Khan who repeatedly tried to invade the land her father ruled over.

She learned how to ride a horse and use a bow & arrow from a young age, as did many young Mongolian boys and girls, and by the time she was grown she became used to bravely riding into battle with her father. Throughout her life she rode into battle alongside her father, fighting of her cousin’s armies.

The explorer Marco Polo once wrote about Khutulun and her signature battle move. He described how she would ride into the midst of the battle on her horse and snatch up a soldier before riding off with him (and presumably disposing of him elsewhere!) Marco Polo said she grabbed these men “as deftly as a hawk pounces on a bird”!

Off the battlefield Khutulun became known for her incredible athletic ability as a wrestler, and has gone down in history as the woman no man could beat at wrestling!

Her mother and father really wanted Khutulun to get married, but it seems she wasn’t too keen on the idea. She made an agreement with her father that if any man could beat her at wrestling, she would marry him. The word spread across the kingdom and many men started arriving to take up the challenge. To compete the men had to bet a number of horses, most would maybe give about 10. If Khutulun won the match she could keep the horses, but if the other guy won, he could marry her. As more and more men walked away defeated by the strong princess the number of horses they said they would give her started to go up! Khutulun became very, very rich (with horses!) One day a man offered a thousand horses to wrestle her!  By this time she had beaten loads of men who had all walked away without their horses and without a bride! By the time this suitor offered the 1000 horses to wrestle her, Khutulun’s parents were pleading with her to just let him win!

She was worried about upsetting her parents, so she agreed to let him win. Well that was the plan; huge crowds gathered to watch the match, and it seemed like finally she may have met her match; they wrestled too and fro with Khutulun using all her strength! The match went on for much longer than normal and it looked like maybe this new suitor would win. But Khutulun was proud of her strength and knew she was a great wrestler, in the end she couldn’t just let this stranger win, and just like the many men who had come before him, he was defeated by the awesome Warrior Princess.

Eventually Khutulun was allowed to choose her own husband, and she remained an undefeated wrestler. Today when Mongolian men wrestle in the traditional way they must wear a top with a completely open front – so that their opponent can be sure they are a man! And everytime they win a match they honor Khutulun by raising their arms in the air and bearing their chests.

Check out Sheroes of History video about Khutulun.

Check out other Sheroes of History at the blog and follow on Facebook and at @SheroesHistory on Twitter. The blog is written with younger readers in mind and you also find free downloads to help you celebrate sheroes with your own young sheroes and heroes.

10 Women Who Refused to Give Up Their Seats Before Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks c. 1955 (source)

Rosa Parks c. 1955 (source)

When Rosa Parks was arrested on December 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on the bus, the community didn’t hesitate to rally around her and begin the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She was a pillar in the community with an unimpeachable character. She was also an activist with experience in the civil rights movement, and the perfect person to give a face to the struggle.

Rosa was seated in the “colored section” of the bus when the “white section” filled up and the driver told her to move. She refused to obey and was subsequently arrested. Her action prompted the Montgomery Bus Boycott. She was an active civil rights worker and at the time secretary of the Montgomery Chapter of the NAACP. Although her court case became bogged down in state courts, her action, the boycott, and the successful case of Browder v. Gayle, finally brought about desegregation of the city’s bus system.

This post is intended in no way to take away from what Mrs. Parks did. Rather it is to highlight the fact that there were many brave women who took similar actions.

Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith

Each of these four women were arrested during 1955 for refusing to give up their seats on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Of these four women, Claudette Colvin is probably the most well-known. On March 2, Claudette was forcibly removed from a bus for refusing to give her seat to a white man. She was 15 years old, a student at Booker T. Washington High School, and an active member of the NAACP’s Youth Council. Initially, it was thought that her case might be used to organize a boycott, but when they discovered that Claudette was pregnant the idea was put on hold.

However, after the boycott began, following Parks arrest, attorneys Fred Gray, E.D. Nixon, and Clifford Durr decided to initiate a civil action suit separate from Parks’ case. When Browder, McDonald, Colvin, and Smith agreed to be plaintiffs, they filed Browder v. Gayle in District Court. Another woman, Jeanette Reese, was initially part of the suit but withdrew because of intimidation from the white community. On June 13, 1956, the district court ruled that the bus segregation was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, and the decision was affirmed by the US Supreme Court on November 13, 1956.

Sarah Keys

In 1952, Sarah Keys was a WAC private headed home on furlough from Fort Dix, New Jersey. The bus was integrated; the decision in Morgan v. Virginia had declared Jim Crow laws inoperable on interstate buses in 1946. When Sarah boarded a Carolina Trailways bus in Washington DC, she had no difficulties, but when a new driver took over in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina he demanded that she move to the “colored section” of the bus and give her seat to a white marine.

When she refused to give up her seat, the driver directed all the passengers to another bus and prevented Sarah from boarding. An altercation resulted and Sarah was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. She was kept in jail overnight without being allowed to contact anyone, convicted and charged a fine of $25.

Sarah and her father contacted the NAACP and were referred to Dovey Johnson Roundtree and her law partner Julius Winfield Robertson. Roundtree had been a WAC recruiter in the Deep South and had a similar experience in 1943, in Florida. It was a long battle, but eventually, on November 7, 1955, the Interstate Commerce Commission issued a ruling in Sarah’s favor, finding that forced segregation violated the Interstate Commerce Act.

Sadly, in his position as Chairman of the Commission, J. Monroe Johnson (from South Carolina), failed to enforce the ruling. It wasn’t until after the violence during the Freedom Riders campaign that the Commission was forced to implement their ruling by US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

Irene Morgan

Unlike Rosa Parks, Irene Morgan wasn’t trained in non-violent civil disobedience, so when she was told to move to give up her seat to a white couple, she fought back physically. On July 16, 1944, Irene was seated in the “colored section” of a Greyhound bus when a white couple boarded. Irene and the woman seated next to her were told to move further back. When she refused, the angry driver drove to the jail in the town of Saluda, Virginia, where she was presented with an arrest warrant.

Irene tore up the arrest warrant. When an officer tried to grab her, she kicked him in “a very bad place.” She clawed and tore the shirt of another officer. When she was finally subdued and dragged off of the bus, she was charged with resisting arrest and violating Virginia’s segregation laws. She pleaded guilty of resisting arrest and paid a $100 fine. However, she pleaded not guilty to the violation of the segregation laws and refused to pay the $10 fine.

Eventually, her case, Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia, made it to the Supreme Court, with a legal team led by Thurgood Marshall, and won. On June 3, 1946, the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation in interstate travel was unconstitutional. Although the ruling was ignored in much of the South, the Freedom Riders paid tribute to Irene, “Get on the bus, sit anyplace, ‘Cause Irene Morgan won her case. You don’t have to ride Jim Crow.”

Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells c. 1893 (source)

Ida B. Wells c. 1893 (source)

On May 4, 1884, a conductor on a Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company train asked Ida Wells to give up her first class seat to a white man and move to the “Jim Crow” car, which also happened to be the smoking car. The 1875 Civil Rights Act banned discrimination on the basis of race, creed, or color on public transport, but this was in Memphis, Tennessee, and several companies ignored the ruling, especially in the south where they could get away with it. (This was before the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision of “separate but equal.”)

Ida refused to give up her seat saying that the other car was a smoker and she was in the ladies’ car. The conductor tried to remove her and she held on to the seat and bit the back of his hand. He then went for help from two other men and the three of them succeeded in dragging her out of the train.

Ida hired an attorney, who was paid off by the company, then hired another attorney who won the case in the local circuit court with an award of $500. The company appealed, however, and the decision was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth (source)

Sojourner Truth (source)

In 1865, Sojourner Truth refused to give up her seat and challenged the segregated horse car system in Washington DC. Usually drivers refused to stop when she wanted to ride, even when they did, they insisted that she ride in the Jim Crow car. Sojourner complained to the president of the car system and the Jim Crow car was removed.

Once when a driver refused to stop, she began yelling “I want to ride!” It startled so many people that traffic came to a stop and she was able to get on the horse car. When told to go ride up where the horses were, outside the actual car, she refused. She told him she wasn’t from Virginia or Maryland, but New York, and knew the law and wouldn’t be intimidated!

On another occasion she was slammed up against a door. Reporting the incident got the driver dismissed. Sojourner continued her riding campaign, encouraging others to do the same. According to Margaret Washington, “She acted boldly, and with flair. She knew that because her name was known, she could focus attention on the illegality and injustice of segregation. She repeated her ride-ins often enough and over a long enough period of time to drive home her point.”

Elizabeth Jennings Graham
Elizabeth Jennings Graham c. 1895 (source)

Elizabeth Jennings Graham c. 1895 (source)

Elizabeth Jennings was a schoolteacher and the church organist at the First Colored American Congregational Church in New York City, and on July 16th, 1864 she was running late. She and her friend, Sarah Adams, hailed a horse-drawn streetcar and didn’t notice if there was a sign saying that “Negro Persons” were allowed on the car. The conductor told them to get off and Elizabeth refused telling him he was an “impudent fellow for insulting decent persons while on their way to church.”

Sarah got off, but Elizabeth clung to the window frame when he tried to force her off. The conductor drove on, but stopped when he saw a police officer. When the officer boarded, he pushed Elizabeth off of the car and to the sidewalk, damaging her bonnet and dress.

Elizabeth wrote a letter detailing her treatment. It was read in church and sent to Horace Greeley’s newspaper, The New York Daily Tribune. Her father also contacted a lawyer, Chester Arthur, the future US President. Arthur won the case against the Third Avenue Railway Company, saying that “colored persons” couldn’t be kept off of public transportation by company rules “nor by force or violence.”

Frances Watkins Harper
Frances Watkins Harper (source)

Frances Watkins Harper (source)

Frances Watkins Harper was writer, teacher, and public speaker, lecturing on abolitionism, prohibition, and women’s suffrage, both before and after the Civil War. During the Reconstruction era, she also traveled in the south to report on living conditions of freedmen.  In April of 1858, while traveling in Pennsylvania, she was asked to leave one of the city cars. She refused and told her own story in a letter to William Lloyd Garrison’s paper The Liberator.

“The other day, in attempting to ride in one of the city cars, after I had entered, the conductor came to me, and wanted me to go out on the platform. Now, was not that brave and noble? As a matter of course, I did not. Some one interfered, and asked or requested that I might be permitted to sit in a corner. I did not move, but kept the same seat. When I was about to leave, he refused my money, and I threw it down on the car floor, and got out, after I had ridden as far as I wished. Such Impudence!”

"The Liberator" (April 23, 1858) article by Frances Watkins Harper

“The Liberator” (April 23, 1858) article by Frances Watkins Harper

Browder v. Gayle: The Women Before Rosa Parks
Keys v. Carolina Coach Co. at Wikipedia
Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia
Ida B. Wells and Her Passion for Justice
Sojourner Truth: A Life Led By Faith
The Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Margaret Washington
The Schoolteacher on the Streetcar (Elizabeth Jennings)
The Liberator (April 23, 1858) – article written by Frances Watkins Harper

Capital Dames by Cokie Roberts – A Book Review

Big book cover Capital DamesCapital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts tells the story of the Civil War through the eyes of the women living in Washington. Many of the names are familiar such as Mary Lincoln, Varina Davis, and Clara Barton, but many I was unfamiliar with, such as Sara Pryor, Lois Adams, and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Lee Blair. There were rivalries between women in Washington prior to the war, but also many friends who would be torn apart because of opposing views.

The social scene in Washington before the war was flourishing. Harriet Lane, niece of President James Buchanan, was stylish, cultured, well-liked, and an excellent White House hostess. Buchanan, however, was unable to prevent the move of the country toward disunion. Between the time Lincoln was elected in November of 1860 and the time he took office in March of 1861, the southern states had seceded and formed the Confederacy.

In describing the years between 1848 and 1860, Roberts lays the groundwork for understanding the changes that occurred in the city during the Civil War.

I found the rivalry between Kate Chase Sprague, daughter of Salmon P. Chase, and Mary Lincoln particularly interesting. Kate was very ambitious for her father. He had run against Lincoln in 1860, but took a position as Lincoln’s Secretary of Treasury. Kate was considered one of the most beautiful and intelligent women in Washington and had plenty of things to say about politics and about Mary Lincoln. Initially, much of the social life continued in the capital until resources became scarce, but Kate did her part for the men in the army camps as well.

But Kate wasn’t the only woman campaigning; Jessie Frémont was just as ambitious for her husband John C. Frémont. Jessie was an outspoken opponent of slavery and Lincoln was never radical enough for her. Of course, John had been the Republican candidate in 1856 and lost, was passed over for Lincoln in 1860 by the Republican party, and was dismissed from his position in the army for insubordination. None of these events endeared the Lincolns to Jessie.

Kate Chase Sprague c. 1860 by Matthew Brady (source)

Kate Chase Sprague c. 1860 by Matthew Brady (source)

The relationships weren’t all rivalries, however, many friends were separated because of opposing politics. Some of them kept in touch when they were able to get mail through the lines, or at least receive news of friends when people passed through the city. Life changed drastically, especially for southern women. Sara Agnes Pryor was the wife of Confederate General Roger A. Pryor. Roberts follows her as she leaves Washington and is forced to move from place to place because of fighting. She is forced to leave 2 of her 5 children with relatives, and with 3 little boys to care for gives birth in a “primitive house” abandoned by one of her brother-in-law’s workers.

While Richmond was still the capital there was a form of society with engagements, so Sara cut up her good clothes to make articles that she could sell to those who still had money. She made hats and lace collars, and gloves out of her husband’s good coat. All this to raise $1300 to buy a barrel of flour. Roger was taken captive and like many other women, she worked to have him released. After the war, Roger went to New York to try to earn a living, leaving Sara to care for the children. It was two long years before they were reunited. In the mean time, the Washington Evening Star reported that “Mrs. Roger A. Pryor comes up regularly to our commissary at Petersburg to draw rations designated for the poor of the city.”

Sara Agnes Pryor (source)

Sara Agnes Pryor (source)

Using newspaper articles, government records, letters and diaries, Roberts chronicles the changes that occur in the city itself. At the start of the war, the population was only about 40,000 people. This grew by over 60,000 as the town became a Union army camp with wounded soldiers and eventually newly freed slaves. The women were largely responsible for taking care of these people. They organized relief efforts, nursing, care of orphans, and “contraband camps” for freedmen. Some of the women who came to prominence in these efforts were Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix, and Elizabeth Keckley. She draws on Keckley’s autobiography for details of her story as well as for information about Mary Lincoln.

Above all, this is a book about the Civil War, the time leading up to it, and its aftermath. Focusing on one city and the individual women from there makes the war at once more complex and yet easier to understand. In her support of Memorial Day after the war, Sara Pryor said, “They died because their country could devise, in its wisdom, no better means of settling a family quarrel than by slaying her sons with the sword.”