Meets a tragic end

After the Civil War ended in 1865, Cushman returned to her acting career. She was proud of her successful wartime service—she liked to be introduced in the theater as "Major

Pauline Cushman
Pauline Cushman in uniform. (Reproduced by permission of Corbis-Bettmann.)

Female Spies in the Civil War

Women acted as spies for both the North and the South during the Civil War. Like the men who fought as soldiers, they risked their lives in order to serve their country. Female spies from both sides had a strong belief in the Union or Confederate cause. This belief made them want to contribute to the war effort. But roles for women were extremely limited in those days. Women were not allowed to serve as soldiers, so nursing and spying were their main choices for wartime activities.

Traditional attitudes had limited women to roles as mothers and home-makers before the Civil War. Many American men tended to think of women as delicate, refined ladies. Such attitudes actually helped some female spies. They were sometimes able to avoid detection because men could not believe women were smart enough or devious enough to serve as spies. Some men thought women were not capable of understanding anything of a technical or strategic nature. As a result, these men spoke freely about military matters in the presence of women. Female spies used this situation to their advantage and relayed the information to their side.

Cushman"—but did not talk about her spy activities on the stage. Her days as an actress gradually came to an end, and she was largely forgotten by the American people. The U.S. government even refused to give her a military pension for her service to the country.

Toward the end of her life, Cushman worked as a dressmaker's assistant and a cleaning woman in order to make ends meet. She also became addicted to drugs. Cushman committed suicide in San Francisco, California, in 1893 (some sources say 1894). Reversing its earlier policy, the government gave her a full military funeral and buried her in a veterans' cemetery. Cushman is remembered as one of the more glamorous yet effective Union spies of the Civil War. She was brave and daring, yet always conducted her activities in a quiet, professional manner.

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