Illinois Women and War

Funded through an Educate and Automate Grant from the Illinois State Library,
a division of the Office of the Secretary of State


by Melissa Calhoun, Infobahn Outfitters, Inc.

Women in Illinois were affected by six wars during the first one hundred years of Illinois statehood:

War of 1812. Although the war occurred prior to statehood, the war influenced settlement of 3.5 million acres in western Illinois. The land between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers became military bounty for veterans of the War of 1812.

Black Hawk War. The War placed the Sauk and Fox Indians against volunteer soldiers. The Illinois militia (including Capt. Abraham Lincoln) drove the Sauk and Fox from Illinois. The war was of short duration and affected primarily the Sauk and Fox and residents in the area of the conflict.

Mormon War. The War was the culmination of unrest between Mormons and non-Mormons in Hancock County. Many felt Mormon leader Joseph Smith had too much political and potentially military control. In 1844, Smith was assassinated while imprisoned at the jail in Carthage. His death had a significant effect the lives of his wife Emma Hale Smith and the other Mormon women. Subsequently, militia from Hancock County and surrounding counties drove thousands of Mormons from Nauvoo. The Mormons began the migratation across the Great Plains to Utah. Many Mormons perished during the journey west.

Civil War. Illinois' 250,000 soldiers equaled 10 to 15% of the state's population. Wounds and disease took their toll and many never returned. Virtually every woman's husband, father, son, or boyfriend became a soldier. Illinois was an amalgum of northerners and southerners, and many families were divided by the issues. Sarah Withers of Bloomington was one example. Another is Mary Todd Lincoln. Her husband was President of the Union, while her brothers fought for the Confederacy.

The war left women to do the work of the men gone to war. Many regiments left home with a silk flag made by local women. Boxes and letters from home eased the dullness of a soldier's life. The Ladies Union Aid Society and the Western Sanitary Commission supplied the troops with critical supplies of clothing and food. Many Illinois women nursed wounded and ill soldiers. Mother Bickerdyke of Galesburg, Aunt Lizzie of Peoria and Louisa Maertz of Quincy and many others served in the field hospitals. The only woman to earn a Congressional Medal of Honor was Dr. Mary E. Walker, who tended soldiers and served four months in a southern prison. Some traveled to visit wounded husbands. Mrs. Carter Van Vleck of Macomb reached Atlanta in time to see Colonel Van Vleck of the 78th Illinois Infantry for the last time and arrange for his body to be returned home. Many were not so fortunate.

Women were officially banned from serving as soldiers. That ban didn't stop Jennie Hodgers. Disguised as a male named Albert Cashier, she served with the 95th Illinois Volunteers for 3 years. Cashier collected a pension until 1911 when medical examination following an accident revealed the secret identity. Albert/Jennie was not alone. Some estimates claim as many as 400 women served as soldiers and as many as 60 women were killed or wounded in battle during the Civil War.

World War I. Between 1900 and 1910, the Army and Navy each developed Nurse Corps, opening the way for women's official service in the military. In 1917, U.S. women were admitted for the first time at full rank and military status into the Navy and Marines. Approximately 34,000 women served, primarily in clerical positions and as nurses. Women were unlikely to enter disguised as men due to the required physical examinations.


Civil War [1861-1865]:
  1. Mother Bickerdyke
  2. Aunt Lizzie Aiken from Peoria
  3. Mary Jane Safford
  4. Nursing in the Civil War - Civil War Medicine
  5. Essays on Sisters in the Civil War - Civil War Medicine
  6. [Abraham] Lincoln and the Nuns - Civil
  7. Louisa Maertz [1837-1918] - Civil War nurse
  8. Candace McCormick Reed


  1. Efflandt, Lloyd H. (1991) Lincoln and the Black Hawk War. Rock Island Arsenal Historical Society, Rock Island, Illinois.
  2. Hallwas, John E. (1990) Macomb: A Pictorial History. G. Bradley Publishing, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri.
  3. Hicken, Victor. (1991) Illinois in the Civil War University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Illinois.
  4. Launius, Roger D. and John E. Hallwas, eds. (1996) Kingdom on the Mississippi Revisted: Nauvoo in Mormon History. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Illinois.

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This page last updated: February 7, 2008