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The Women Who Went to the Field – A Poem

The Women Who Went to the Field
Photograph of Clara Barton smiling. She wears lace over her dark dress and a broach at her neck[View Image]
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Clara Barton
Photo: Library of Congress
Digital ID cph 3b23025


Editor’s Note: Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross) wrote the following poem as a toast to women who served in the Civil War. It was first presented at a gala dinner held in 1892 by the Women’s Relief Corps and was later printed in many newspapers and magazines. The goal of the members of the Women’s Relief Corps, many of whose husbands had served in the Civil War, was to ensure that all Civil War veterans were honored and remembered. They helped maintain battlefields and cemeteries and erected many monuments to the troops.

The women who went to the field, you say,
the women who went to the field; and pray
What did they go for? just to be in the way!–
They’d not know the difference betwixt work and play,
What did they know about war anyway?
What could they do? — of what use could they be?
They would scream at the sight of a gun, don’t you see?
They would faint at the first drop of blood, in their sight.
What fun for us boys, — (ere we enter the fight;)
They might pick some lint, and tear up some sheets,
And make us some jellies, and send on their sweets,
And knit some soft socks for Uncle Sam’s shoes,
And write us some letters, and tell us the news.
And thus it was settled by common consent,
Of husbands, or brothers, or whoever went,
That the place for the women was in their own homes,
There to patiently wait until victory comes.Vignettes of women serving as nurses and doing other wartime duties[View Image]
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Our Women and the War, from Harper’s Weekly, September 6, 1862
Photo: Courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The Ray Austrian Collection
Object Number 1996.63.120

Of those we recall, there was scarcely a score,
Dix, Dame, Bickerdyke, — Edson, Harvey and Moore,
Fales, Whittenmeyer, Gilson, Safford and Lee,
and poor Cutter dead in the sands of the sea;
And Frances D. Gage, our “Aunt Fanny” of old,
Whose voice rang for freedom when freedom was sold.
And Husband, and Etheridge, and Harlan and Case,
Livermore, Alcott, Hancock, and Chase,
And Turner, and Hawley, and Potter, and Hall.
Ah! the list grows apace, as they come at the call:
Did these women quail at the sight of a gun?
Will some soldier tell us of one he saw run?
Will he glance at the boats on the great western flood,
At Pittsburg and Shiloh, did they faint at the blood?
And the brave wife of Grant stood there with them then,
And her calm, stately presence gave strength to his men.
And Marie of Logan; she went with them too;
A bride, scarcely more than a sweetheart, ‘t is true.
Her young cheek grows pale when the bold troopers ride.
Where the “Black Eagle” soars, she is close at his side,
She staunches his blood, cools the fever-burnt breath,
And the wave of her hand stays the Angel of Death;
She nurses him back, and restores once again
To both army and state the brave leader of men.

And what would they do if war came again?
The scarlet cross floats where all was blank then.
They would bind on their “brassards”* and march to the fray,
And the man liveth not who could say to them nay;
They would stand with you now, as they stood with you then,
The nurses, consolers, and saviors of men.

*Armbands with distinctive designs meant to distinguish the wearer in some special way.


Source: National Park Service, Clara Barton Readings.  (Accessed: June 16, 2016)

This poem is part of the Clara Barton Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division.


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