One of just a very few writings of Lincoln in private hands in which he requests that a woman be employed in the government.
In addition to his personal dealings and relationships, President Lincoln dealt with women on a daily basis in his capacity as President. There were the expected contacts with relatives of government and military officials, as well as with nurses, Sanitary Commission volunteers and other workers who raised money, supplied the needs of...
In addition to his personal dealings and relationships, President Lincoln dealt with women on a daily basis in his capacity as President. There were the expected contacts with relatives of government and military officials, as well as with nurses, Sanitary Commission volunteers and other workers who raised money, supplied the needs of those in the service, or cared for soldiers who were sick or wounded. In addition, many women sought Lincoln's personal attention to make requests of him, such as asking for jobs or promotions for relatives, that passes be issued through the army lines, that a son who was too young for service be released from the army, that a relative captured in the uniform of the Confederacy be let out of prison upon taking an oath of allegiance, or were pleas for clemency or special consideration for a husband or son. Lincoln famously came to the aid of some of these women whose relatives were scheduled to be shot for infractions like desertion or falling asleep on guard duty. One well-known example is a letter written to a woman who had visited Lincoln on behalf of her sons, in which he says, "The lady – bearer of this – says she has two sons who want to work. Set them at it, if possible. Wanting to work is so rare a merit, that it should be encouraged." Of course, some women sought consideration for themselves; these were generally needy women who had suffered because of the war and required a job to earn a living.
It is therefore startling to find from an analysis of Lincoln's writings and correspondence during the Civil War how seldom he specifically mentions women. A search of the "Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln" by Roy Basler, for the words "woman" and "lady," reveal fewer than 150 uses of the words, and that includes instances where the words were used twice relating to the same person or incident. The term "lady" was searched because Lincoln had a considerable preference for that term over the word "woman." In fact, less than 40 instances of his use of the word "woman" were found.
So how many incontrovertible instances are there where, during the Civil War, Lincoln intervened in writing to find a woman a position with the government. One might think many, but analysis proves that not so. We can find just 11 of these written interventions, and many of these are now in institutions like the Huntington Library. Only a few remain in private hands. This is one of them, and thus a great rarity.
Maine Senator William P. Fessenden was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which had responsibility for raising funds for the Civil War. He held that position before succeeding Salmon Chase as Secretary of the Treasury on July 5, 1864. They had crossed swords initially, and he had been a frequent critic early in the war, but Fessenden became an admirer of President Lincoln. Fessenden served until March 3, 1865, when he returned to the Senate.
Autograph Endorsement Signed, Washington, October 17, 1864, to Fessenden as Secretary of the Treasury, penned on the verso of a piece cut from the complete original paper. In an effort to assist an unnamed woman in finding work, President Lincoln writes, "Hon. Sec. of Treasury, Please see & hear this lady who wants employment." A notation on the back fragment reads "Can you give her…Departments…to the needful", thus indicating that Lincoln's request was complied with and the lady indeed given a position in a department of Treasury that needed additional personnel. An article in the New York Times in 1981 mentions this very endorsement, and states provenance of Charles Hamilton, adding that this endorsement "recommending a lady for employment is direct and matter of fact."
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