Women in the War of 1812
During the War of 1812, women were integral in non-combat roles. From tending to the wounded to sewing American flags, the bravery of women in the War of 1812 was on full display.
Dolley Madison was remembered as a gracious hostess and helped define the social and political role of the First Lady to the President. Her husband, James Madison, became president in 1809, but Dolley served as First Lady in an unofficial role under President Thomas Jefferson. Since Jefferson was a widower, Dolley would help organize parties and entertain guests. She was also responsible for selecting furnishings for the newly built White House. When her husband was elected president, she was fully capable of handling the role of First Lady. On August 24, 1814 when word reached the White House that the British were on their way to invade Washington, D.C., Dolley gave orders to remove valuables from the White House to ensure their safety. In the final moments before fleeing, Dolley gave instructions to break the frame of Gilbert Stuart's George Washington portrait so it could be safely taken out of the city.
Elizabeth Warner Sands
Born in 1789 in Deer Creek, Maryland, Elizabeth Warner Sands was one of 9 children. She was still living in Maryland when the War of 1812 broke out and on September 11, 1814, the Americans faced off against the British on Patapso Neck in the Battle of North Point. In the aftermath, Warner Sands accompanied Dr. James H. McCulloch, a U.S. Army surgeon at Fort McHenry to enter British lines and tend to the wounded and dying. The Old Methodist Meeting House was used as a field hospital where the wounded were treated. Warner Sands lost three brothers and a nephew in this battle and she received little recognition for her service until later in life. In 1842, Battle of Northpoint veterans organized the "Association of the Old Defenders of Baltimore in 1814," where they would honor their former comrades with an annual gathering. On the 75th anniversary of the battle in 1889, Elizabeth Warner Sands was recognized for her efforts and made an honorary member. She lived to be 102 years old, having outlived nearly all of the "Old Defenders."
In 1806, Mary Pickersgill moved to Maryland and opened up a seamstress shop where she made military colors, signal flags, and merchant flags. She was one of the few women in her neighborhood to start and run a successful business on her own. This success and her reputation as a flag maker won her a contract from Major George Armistead of Fort McHenry to create a flag "so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance." Pickersgill understood the assignment and created a 30' x 42' garrison flag with 15 stripes and 15 stars using over 400 yards of fabric. Each stripe was two feet wide and each star was two feet across and the flag was so large that it had to be assembled in a nearby brewery to allow for the extra space. It was delivered to Armistead at Fort McHenry on August 19,1813 and it flew for over a year before the British bombardment of the fort in 1814. The flag became popular and immortalized in a poem titled The Star Spangled Banner, which is now recognized as the national anthem.
Interested in Learning More?
Visit our exhibit, The War of 1812: Peril in the High Seas and at Home, to learn more about these women and their contribution to the fight.