Archive for July, 2013

Mary Surratt, the first woman executed by the US government

July 7th, 2013
by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant
“…the Commission do, therefore, sentence her, the said MARY E. SURRATT, to be hanged by the neck until she be dead, at such time and place as the President of the United States shall direct.”

At 1:22pm on July 7, 1865, Mary Surratt became the first woman ever to be executed by the United States government. Surratt, Lewis Powell (aka Lewis Payne), David Herold, and George Atzerodt were all involved in John Wilkes Booth’s elaborate plot to completely disrupt the Union government by killing President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward.  Atzerodt was supposed to kill Johnson, but he got cold feet and got drunk instead.  Powell was supposed to kill Seward, but Seward survived his attack.  Herold brought Powell to Seward’s home and helped Booth escape Washington, DC. Surratt, according to Johnson, “kept the nest that hatched the egg.” She, it was believed by many, was the center around which the whole plot evolved.  After a month long trial and just two days of deliberation, all four were charged with conspiring to assassinate the President of the United States and were sentenced to hang for their crime.  In June and early July of 1865, Mary Surratt was the most hated woman in the country and there was little doubt in Americans’ minds that she played a definite role in the assassination plot. For the almost 150 years since her death, though, public opinion has been somewhat divided.

For nearly her whole life, Mary Surratt lived just outside of Washington, DC in Prince George’s County, Maryland.  She and her husband ran a successful tavern/hotel in the county and, in the early 1850s, the area surrounding the their business was named Surrattsville (now Clinton, Maryland).  Maryland was a slave state and Surratts owned slaves whose labor they depended on to keep up their business.  This was especially true when Surratt’s husband died and she was left to run things herself.  As the North and South became more and more divided over the issue of slavery during the 1850s, the Surratts, like many of their Surrattsville neighbors, felt a growing allegiance to the southern way of life.  Maryland did not secede from the Union like other southern slave states did in 1860 and 1861, leaving many families feeling stuck in a Union state with Confederate sympathies.  When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Surratts’ older son left Maryland to fight for the Confederacy and their younger son, John, became an informant who traveled to collect and deliver secret messages to the Confederate Army.  During the Civil War, the Surratts’ views grew stronger.  They became known as Confederate sympathizers and the Surrattsville tavern became known as a safe haven for people who held similar views. Read the rest of this entry »

Historical Women Who Rocked: July 4th Edition

July 3rd, 2013

In celebration of Independence Day, NWHM presents a special edition of its “Historical Women Who Rocked” series. Take a look at these trailblazers who were major players in the Revolutionary War.

Who: “Agent 355”

When: During the Revolutionary War
About: She is considered by intelligence historians to be America’s first female undercover operations officer. It is speculated that “355” came from a wealthy New York Tory family that would have allowed her access to British forces operating nearby. Abraham Woodhull, speculated head of the Culper Ring spy organization, wrote that she “hath been ever serviceable to this correspondence” and could “outwit them all.” She was given the name “355,” which was the code-number for “lady” from the encryption code system used by the Culper Ring. While defending against the British in and around New York, George Washington came to rely heavily on the information she supplied him. “355” is even credited for helping uncover the treasonous Benedict Arnold-John André plot that eventually led to André’s demise. Agent 355 is heralded as one of the best intelligence officers because her identity is still unknown to us today after almost 230 years. Read the rest of this entry »

Before ‘Cosmopolitan’ and ‘Glamour’ there was “Godey’s Lady’s Book”

July 2nd, 2013

By: Sydnee C. Winston, Project Coordinator

Quick…name as many popular lady’s magazines as you can!

Chances are that popular magazines like Cosmopolitan, Glamour and RedBook immediately came to mind, right? While these magazines have unique features and are read by millions, there is one pioneering lady’s magazine that made it possible for magazines like these to exist. Godey’s Lady’s Book was hands-down, the most popular and widely read lady’s magazine during its heyday from the 1840′s to 1860. The magazine set the standard for etiquette and culture and its influential editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, was regarded as a connoisseur of all things fashion, cooking, literature and morality for middle and upper class woman.

Sarah was born on a New Hampshire farm in 1788.  Like most girls of the era, she received a limited education from family members and what she could teach herself.  After she married lawyer David Hale in 1813, they formed a small literary club with many of their friends and Hale began writing.  After the death of her husband in 1822, Hale turned to writing to support herself and her five children.  Her first effort was to co-publish a book of poems with her sister-in-law called The Genius of Oblivion and Other Original Poems.  The book was relatively well-received and Hale went on to write a novel called Northwood, which also sold well.  Due to the success of the book, Hale was solicited to become the editor of a new magazine aimed at women.  Leaving behind her children temporarily in the care of relatives, Hale accepted the position and moved to Boston in 1827. Read the rest of this entry »

Historical Women Who Rocked: Nellie Bly

July 1st, 2013

Did you know that in 1889, at the age of 24, journalist Nellie Bly circled the  globe by ship, train, burro and balloon in just 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes? That was a considerably shorter time than Jules Verne wrote about in his 1873 classic, Around the World in 80 Days.  Nellie’s global expedition is just one of many reasons why she was an historical woman who rocked! Here are some more:

Newspaper reporter Elizabeth Jane Cochran, pen name Nellie Bly, was the inventor of investigative reporting.  Born in May 1864, in Pennsylvania, Bly’s father was a prominent landowner, judge and businessman.  Bly was the thirteenth of his fifteen children (born to her father’s second wife).  Her father died when she was six years old, leaving her family in near poverty because he did not include his second family in his will.  After her mother ended a disastrous second marriage, Bly went to the Indiana Normal School at age 15 to become a teacher so she could help support her family.  However, she had to quit after one year because there was no more money to fund her education.  Bly and her mother moved to Pittsburgh, where they ran a boarding house.  Read the rest of this entry »