Inspirational Stories of Women
Who Made a Difference!
March 7, 2006
Welcome to History's
March is Women's
History Month. Women's history is our nation's story; the
story of how women built communities and inspired and nurtured
dreams and how they will continue to do so.
So, especially for the month of March, remember to celebrate the
great women in your life!
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"None who have always been free can understand the terrible
fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not
~Pearl S. Buck
From Slave to Spy
1839 - ?
As the Davis children entered the dining room for dessert,
smiles and gentle laughter replaced the adults’ frowns and talk of
war. The new servant, Mary, took the opportunity to glance at a
paper one of the officers had carelessly placed on the side table.
There were notes from the latest battle. As she scanned the page,
she memorized every word! She had listened to the war talk as she
served the platters of Virginia ham, roast turkey, and oysters.
Suddenly Mary got that prickly feeling you get when you know
someone is staring at you. She turned and saw Mrs. Davis frowning
at her. Mary calmly but quickly picked up the bowls of pudding,
bowed slightly to the Confederate First Lady, and served dessert
to the eager children.
Her heart skipped a beat as it always did when she sensed the
danger of being caught. Still, her disguise was perfect. No one
would expect a former slave to be able to read, let along
understand anything about troop strength and war strategy.
* * * * * * * *
Mary Bowser was a former slave, but she was not uneducated.
Born in 1839, she grew up in the Van Lew household. When Elizabeth
Van Lew returned home from school in Philadelphia, there were
lively discussions about slavery. Elizabeth spoke out against it.
Mrs. Van Lew quietly agreed with her daughter. Unfortunately, Mr.
Van Lew didn’t agree, but he treated Mary and his other slaves
After Mr. Van Lew died, Elizabeth freed all their slaves. Then
she asked Mary the most startling question: Now that Mary was
free, would she like to go to Philadelphia to attend school as
Elizabeth had done? Though Mary could not go to the same school as
Elizabeth, she was able to attend a Quaker school for black
students. Philadelphia had a strong anti-slavery spirit.
Many of the other freed slaves decided to stay on and work for
Elizabeth. Mary may have hesitated to leave her friends and
relatives, but once she got to school, her quick mind absorbed all
the Quakers could teach her. She had a photographic memory, which
not only helped with her studies, but eventually made her a great
When Confederate President Jefferson Davis moved to Richmond,
he and his wife brought a few of their slaves with them. They
needed additional help in the Confederate White House as they had
young children and all kinds of social and political obligations.
Elizabeth heard Mrs. Davis wanted more household workers, so
she offered to find someone for her. Then she hurriedly sent word
to Mary in Philadelphia: Would Mary come back to Richmond and take
the position—as an undercover spy?
Mary agreed to return.
Working in the Confederate White House, she was in a great
position to get secret military plans. When the baker, another
Union spy, made his deliveries, Mary passed the information to
him. He was amazed by her memory!
Mary also met with Elizabeth. She’d set out, walking quickly,
glancing over her shoulder to see who might be following her. They
had hurried conversations. It must have been a relief to Mary to
hear how the war was going from the Union’s point of view.
When two of the Davis family slaves ran away, Mary was glad
that they would find freedom. She knew what it was to be free, but
even if they had asked her to join them, she wouldn’t have gone.
She would stay in Richmond until the war was over, doing
everything she could to bring freedom to all slaves.
Over one hundred years later, in 1995, the U.S. Army inducted
Mary into the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame
for her success “in a highly dangerous mission. . . .She was one
of the highest placed and most productive espionage agents of the
Ryan Ann Hunter is the
pen name for Pamela D. Greenwood and Elizabeth G. Macalaster,
who write nonfiction for all ages. Their award-winning
Into The Air: An Illustrated Timeline of Flight from
National Geographic and Robots Slither, a Book Sense
Best Children’s Book.
Bowser: From Slave to Spy
" is an excerpt from
their book In Disguise! Stories of Real Women Spies. Struck
by the courage and conviction of these women, they wanted to
share stories about their silent service for the cause of
Learn more about Ryan
Ann Hunter at
for $13.50 (including shipping)
To order a copy of In Disguise!
Stories of Real Women Spies
By Ryan Ann Hunter
$13.50 (includes shipping)
This collection of profiles features 26 women who
spied in wartimes, from the Anglo-Dutch Wars in 1640 to the Cold
War era. Harriet Tubman and Belle Boyd are discussed in the Civil
War chapter. Singer Josephine Baker is included for her
participation in the French Resistance. Also featured are many
lesser-known women such as Leona Vicario Roo, who helped lead
Mexico's revolution against Spanish rule, and France's Marthe
Richer, a double agent during World War I. An introduction to each
chapter briefly describes the conflict and the nature of the
divided loyalties. Individual stories are prefaced by a small
photo or drawing and a bit of first-person narration or
fictionalized dialogue. Readers will be intrigued by the bravado
shown by women who risked their lives relaying vital information
to their cause and were often sentenced to death for treason. Spy
trivia and craft activities are interspersed throughout.
Today's biography is taken from this book. Pick up a copy
for $13.50 (shipping included) by
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