This week’s field trip found us braving the polar vortex and sub-zero temperatures for a performance of “Secret Soldiers” at the Coterie Theatre. The show is about the hidden history of women who fought disguised as men during the Civil War, and the issues they faced if and when their true identities were discovered. The show is focused on the story of Sarah Rosetta “Lyons” Wakeman, but includes several other examples. Part of the performance included the audience acting as military doctors and deciding how female soldiers should be identified in the medical records. The kids were very thoughtful about how they would have handled this situation, and the audience had a nearly even split between listing her as a female (with possible repercussions of losing her job, pension, and reputation) or listing her under her military name (thus preserving all of the above). For our show, using the military name won the vote. This was a thought-provoking performance, and led into some very good conversations about career choices for women today vs. women of the past, what motivated women during the Civil War to defy convention and fight as men, and a host of related topics.
The story of Sarah Rosetta “Lyons” Wakeman is in the book An Uncommon Soldier. Stories of other women soldiers during the Civil War are in the book They Fought Like Demons by Blanton and Cook, She Went to the Field by Tsui, and Memoirs of a Soldier, Nurse, and Spy: A Woman’s Adventures in the Union Army by Edmonds, The Woman in Battle by Velazquez, My Last Skirt: The Story of Jennie Hodgers, Union Soldier by Durrant, and I’ll Pass For Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War by Silvey.
Many thanks to the Coterie Theatre and UMKC for a wonderful and informative performance!