Last updated: June 6, 2017
Although in 1846 women were not allowed to enlist in the army, they still played a significant part in the Mexican-American War. Whether serving as laundresses (women who looked after the soldiers) or disguising themselves so they could serve in combat. Women are a part of this important piece of history.
Through research I've done so far, two women's stories have sparked my interest. The first is Sarah Bowman, who served as a laundress. Her tall stature gained her the nickname "The Great Western" one account described her as "an immense woman, would whip most anybody in a rough and tumble fight."1 In addition to her height, her courageous and integral character is why she was one of the most well respected people in the war.
One of the first instances when her personality shone through was during a conflict while the U.S. soldiers were trying to cross the Arroyo Colorado. Mexican soldiers attempted to threaten the troops by causing a commotion, to which Sarah Bowman responded "If the General would give her a pair of tongs [pants] she would wade the river and whip every scoundrel that dared show himself."2
Throughout her career, Sarah Bowman continually demonstrated acts of bravery and patriotism. She passed away in 1866 and was buried with military honors.
The second story that peaked my interest was that of Elizabeth Newcom. Her story is a unique one. Elizabeth found a way around the rule prohibiting women to fight in battle by dressing as a man and enlisting under the name "Bill." She served for 10 months before getting caught.
Although she was discharged, a bill was passed in congress addressing whether or not she should receive her veterans land bounty. The Committee on Military Affairs said “her services were as useful to the government as if she had been a man.”3 The Committee went on to say “the law makes no distinction with regard to sex.”4 It was decided that Elizabeth was eligible for pay for her services, as well to land bounty.
These are only two of the women who served for our country during the U.S.-Mexican War, but there were many others who greatly contributed. It seems to me this subject has not been looked into much. I hope to continue my research and eventually expand into writing an article.
1. Sandwich, Brian. “1.” The Great Western: Legendary Lady of the Southwest, Texas Western Press, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX, 1991, pp. 4–4.
2. Sandwich, Brian. “1.” The Great Western: Legendary Lady of the Southwest, Texas Western Press, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX, 1991, pp. 7–7.
3. The Reports of the Committees of the Senate of the United States for the First Session, Thirty-Third Congress, 1853—’54. Washington: Beverly Tucker, Senate Printer, 1854.
4. The Reports of the Committees of the Senate of the United States for the First Session, Thirty-Third Congress, 1853—’54. Washington: Beverly Tucker, Senate Printer, 1854.