In 1712, she was presented to Queen Anne, a figure who knew only too well what it meant to be a woman in a man’s world. Kit was granted a reward, a pension and when she died in 1739, she was buried with full military honours.
Women in the British army today
Two hundred years later, when WWII broke out, British women had the right to vote but no right to fight on the frontline. They fulfilled supporting roles through the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which became the Women’s Royal Army Corps in 1949. In 1975, the Sex Discrimination Act improved gender parity for many industries but Section 85 continued to prevent women fulfilling combat roles.
In 2018, it was announced that the ban would finally be lifted. With Major General Sharon Nesmith becoming the first woman to command a British army brigade in 2014 and Susan Ridge becoming the first female Major General in 2015, it seems at last there is movement.
Mary Seacole: Creating a place of safety for soldiers in 1855
For many years, the official role for women on the battlefields has been as nurses. Mary Seacole, born in 1805, inherited her passion for nursing from her Jamaican mother, who cared for invalid soldiers. Her father was a Scottish Lieutenant, enabling her to observe the work of doctors in the British Army. Mary combined Caribbean and African herbal remedies with practices learned from European military doctors in treating her patients.
In 1854, she applied to treat soldiers in the Crimean War, the first war to have official, nurses. Her request was refused, almost certainly on account of her mixed-race. Determined to help, she set off to Crimea herself, where she formed the ’British Hotel.’ She used the money made from selling food, drinks and equipment to care for the ill and injured soldiers. She became known as ’Mother Seacole.’