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Downtown Book Club
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When: Wednesday, January 24
5:30 pm
Where: Wishbone
1001 Washington
Chicago, Illinois  60607
United States
Contact: Deb Hypke

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Join fellow CFE members for dinner and a social discussion on the book Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, by Karen Scott.


Excerpt from A Washington Post Review.
The role of women on both sides of the Civil War has generally received scant attention in conventional histories of the conflict, but a few women did considerably more than make bandages and tend the home fires. “War, like politics, was men’s work,” Karen Abbott writes, “and women were supposed to be among its victims, not its perpetrators. Women’s loyalty was assumed, regarded as a prime attribute of femininity itself, but now there was a question — one that would persist throughout the war — of what to do with what one Lincoln official called ‘fashionable women spies.’ Their gender provided them with both a psychological and a physical disguise; while hiding behind social mores about women’s proper roles, they could hide evidence of their treason on their very person, tucked beneath hoop skirts or tied up in their hair. Women, it seemed, were capable not only of significant acts of treason, but of executing them more deftly than men.”

In “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy,” Abbott claims that “as many as four hundred women, in both North and South, were posing and fighting as men.” One of these was Emma Edmondson, who put on a soldier’s uniform, changed her name to Frank Thompson and enlisted in Company F, Second Michigan Infantry. Of the four women whose stories Abbott tells, she was the only one who managed to pass as a man and to join a fighting unit, though she served primarily on the medical staff or as a mail carrier before doing a stint as a spy. She had had a difficult childhood that included “the ‘severity’ of her father” and an “impending arranged marriage to a vulgar old neighbor”; putting on a uniform and disappearing into the vast ranks of the Union army seemed preferable to anything else the future seemed to hold for her.

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