Do we value women less than men when it comes to war?

An unfortunate aspect of war is the sheer amount of casualties that are suffered on both sides of the conflict. Throughout the history of the United States war has been an ever-present facet of out society. Most of us have difficulty remembering a time when America was not involved in some sort of armed conflict. During the 19th century, the United States faced a series of conflicts within the confines of her borders that resulted in some of the largest and bloodiest fighting seen to date.

The 1883 Pensioners lists hundreds of casualties stemming from the early 19th century, through the War of 1812 and through the American Civil War. Within this list lies the names of the pension recipient, the cause for which the pension is being offered, and the date in which the first payment was submitted. At first glance this census, of sorts, provides few details to create much of an argument out of other than it can be assumed these pensions were direct results of the various conflicts America fought during the century. However, upon looking through many of the reasons for the pension, we as historians can uncover some rather interesting little tid bits. First off, gunshot wounds, while the major cause for a pension, was not the sole injury sustained. In many cases diseases and illnesses could result in a person obtaining a monthly check. Epilepsy receives an average payout of $8.00 whereas chronic diarrhea saw a person receiving half of that. While you will have difficulty arguing that chronic diarrhea should be classified as something the government should include as reasoning for a pension, it is clear that it was a rather rampant problem that plagued many people during this period.

An argument that I would like to bring up concerning a rather heartbreaking part of this data is the amount of dependent mothers and widows represented within the data. Females makeup roughly fifty-percent of the population, give-or-take, but when we, as students of history, think about war we directly assume the victims are male. We forget that there are women back home caring for the family and painfully trying to make ends meet. Today strides have been made to recognize this forgotten section of society as women are increasingly making up larger and larger sections of the armed forces. But in the 19th century, women were decades from achieving the right to vote, let alone go off to war. So the subsection of pensions for women that are represented in this data has to do with them becoming widowed and needing to care for a family, presumably. The average payout here is the same as epilepsy at $8.00 a month. This would have the same buying power as around $250.00 today. $250.00 is not a lot of money one bit considering the various bills now accrued by the widow from her husband and also raising her children. There are numerous different injuries including in this data set but to pull one out to compare: an injury to the right foot received $25.00, over three times the amount that a widowed mother is now receiving.

There is no doubt that serious wounds such as amputations and other handicaps sustained as a result of battle require a large degree of money. But by giving women a measly $8.00, I would argue, society is valuing their life and their contributions to society in a much smaller degree. This can be seen throughout the history of the United States and around the world. Women have tended to be treated as inferior to men. They had been refused the right to vote up until 1919, lacked equal rights within a marriage, have their bodies regulated by church and state alike, are refused entry into certain military branches, the list goes on and on. During a time when women had difficulty even obtaining a job, they are now without the love of their life and their breadwinner. How, as a society, could this be allowed to happen?

One thought on “Do we value women less than men when it comes to war?

  • May 2, 2016 at 7:29 PM

    Where are you getting your value conversion? It’s a good point to make, but one that needs citation.

    New York passed a law in 1848 allowing married women to keep their own property and there were no laws against women working–do you think that has anything to do with the pensions widows received? ie, is the unspoken assumption that women are able to work, and therefore don’t need as much of a pension as someone who is completely incapacitated for work from a gunshot wound? Be careful of drawing too much of the modern context–ie, bodies regulated by church and state/barred from the military–into this discussion, because those weren’t really 19th century concerns–the vote, economic and education rights were much more of a concern for the women’s rights movement at the time.

    It’s interesting that you have some women with gunshot wounds–what do you make of these? You also don’t have women pensioned due to chronic illnesses like rheumatism, disease, etc–what’s it say about gender expectations that women were only pensioned if they were widows? Likewise, what does it say about expectations for men that the highest pensions paid were to men who were blind, “demented,” or “insane”? Or what does it say about likely veterans’ medical outcomes that a gun shot wound was seen as less debilitating than an amputated limb or finger?

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