An Explanation of the Sarah Emma Edmonds Series
Born on a farm on the shores of Magaguadavic Lake in New Brunswick, Canada, Sarah Emma Edmonds grew up with the constant awareness of her father’s deep resentment that she was female rather than male. As a child, Emma tried to prove herself “worthy” by assuming many of the more difficult tasks on the farm and becoming proficient in riding horses, canoeing and other skills traditionally associated with boys. When at the age of 17 her father tried to “marry her off” to a much older neighbor in order to reduce the number of mouths he had to feed at home, she had had enough. Though specific accounts vary, the record shows that she left home and in less than a year, reappeared having assumed the clothing, mannerisms, lifestyle – and name -- of a man. She was now living as Franklin Thompson, and became a successful traveling book salesman.
Her work eventually brought her to the United States and she was living in Flint, Michigan when the Civil War began. When the first call for Union volunteers went out, Emma (now Frank) saw many of her friends enlisting and wished to do the same. After training in Washington, Emma Edmonds (alias Frank Thompson) was assigned as a male nurse to the hospital unit of the 2d Michigan Infantry, a position she held at the time of the First Battle of Manassas.
Lest viewers draw the conclusion that Emma was suffering from ambivalent gender identity or was perhaps simply a cross-dresser, they should note not only that she actually revealed her true identity in late 1861 to a fellow hospital steward with whom she had fallen in love (only to be rejected), but that in 1863, for fear of having her true identity discovered when she developed malaria, she deserted the army eventually to resurface in Oberlin, OH where she resumed her life as a woman. After the war she went on to marry and give birth to 3 children and adopt 2 more. In the 1880’s she petitioned the government, and eventually became the only woman ever awarded, a full soldier’s pension for her service during the Civil War.
I have found Sarah Emma Edmonds not only to be a very intriguing study from the Civil War era, but also to be an extremely complex and sometimes mysterious character and therefore decided to create a series of works to try to understand and describe her nature at various points in her life.
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