History spotlight shines on women in Civil War Contributions: As part of a Carroll Community College program, 'Finally Heard' brings dramatic life to a little-known chapter of the War Between the States.

July 17, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Amid all the Civil War re-enactments, glorifying generals and soldiers, a new drama pays homage to women whose lives were entwined with the era.

"Finally Heard: Feminine Heroes of an Uncivil War" debuted in Frederick last summer and ends its six-week run this season with a presentation at Liberty High School tomorrow.

The two-act production ends a daylong historical presentation, "Maryland and the Civil War: A Regional Perspective," tomorrow at Carroll Community College. Sponsored by the college, the event features workshops, speakers, exhibits and a living history presentation.

"The whole reason for the play is that women's roles in the Civil War are almost never heard," said Tad Janes, artistic director.

The stories of six characters depicted in the play will open the eyes of those who think women stayed home pining for their menfolk, said Gene Fouche, whose research inspired the play. Women were soldiers, nurses, even spies.

"I had no idea women actually fought in the war," said Fouche, who found 400 cases of women who disguised themselves as men and joined the armies. Most were discovered and discharged, but Fouche found an exception in Jennie Hodgers, played by Meg Coyle-Stanford.

Hodgers changed her name to Albert Cashier, when she enlisted in an Ohio regiment. Her comrades never discovered her true identity and she fought at their side until the war ended. Years later, Hodgers tripped on her skirt -- she much preferred pants -- broke her hip and died. She was buried in her Army uniform.

Fouche chose the characters and cast, giving each actress a brief biography of the woman she would portray. Cast members together then wrote dialogue that stemmed from research into diaries, archives and the Internet.

"Once you began to look, the information was there," said Director Angela D'Ambrosia, who also plays Elizabeth Van Lew.

She discovered that Van Lew, a Northern sympathizer living in Richmond, Va., developed many espionage techniques including elaborate codes and colorless ink that became visible with an application of milk. She sent messages to Union generals in hollowed-out eggs and bottoms of produce baskets from her farm.

D'Ambrosia had Van Lew's diary for insight into her character, who died penniless and was condemned by Richmond society for her support of the enemy.

The diary also gave details of Mary Elizabeth Bowser, whom Van Lew freed from slavery and sent to be educated in Philadelphia. When hostilities broke out, Bowser -- played by Wanda Schell -- returned to Richmond, where her former mistress secured for her a position in Jefferson Davis' household. Bowser passed information on battle strategies to Van Lew throughout the war.

"I cannot imagine that Mary Elizabeth Bowser did not have a huge part in the North winning the war," said Fouche.

"Yet, her family, ashamed that she had spied for the Yankees, destroyed her diary," said D'Ambrosia.

Fouche plays Euphemia Goldsborough, a nurse who tended the wounded of both armies at Gettysburg. When she returned to her home in Frederick, she was arrested for treason and banished to the South.

"This is not a re-enactment play," said D'Ambrosia. "We looked into the hearts and minds of these women to see what made them tick. We found they were extremely fundamental and very clever."

Other characters include Sylvia DuBois, a slave whose obstreperous behavior earned her freedom, played by Rona Mensah. Mary Tepe, who provided troops with supplies and often went onto the battlefield to dispense water, rounds out the cast and is played by Sophie Arrick.

Arrick has found many accounts of Tepe's life with the 114th Pennsylvania, but most stories came from those who met her on the front lines.

"It was interesting to build a character from research," said Arrick. "This play showed me women were vital to the war effort and unappreciated."

The Maryland Ensemble Theatre, based in Frederick, produced "Finally Heard" originally and hopes to bring it to area schools in the fall.

Curtain rises at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of Liberty High School, 5855 Bartholow Road, Eldersburg. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for children under 12. Information: 410-386-8000.

Pub Date: 7/17/98

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