Mexican Women and the War

Mexican women had always played an important role in the nation's military life. Women often traveled with the army, acting as cooks, nurses, and performing other services. Since the Mexican army relied heavily on forced conscription, to limit the rate of desertion, soldiers were allowed to bring their families with them on extended campaigns. During Santa Anna's march into Texas in 1836, for example, hundreds of women and children accompanied the army. At the same time, however, women frequently performed the same services for U.S. troops, evidence that nationalistic sentiment in Mexico was not yet highly developed.

Mexican intellectuals, on the other hand, exhibited a fierce nationalism, which they often expressed with gendered language that described the war as a rape of their homeland. To inspire patriotism and the need for greater self-sacrifice, Mexican writers called attention to reports that "ferocious Yankee volunteers have violated chaste young ladies [and] thrown themselves upon our women…"As the war continued to go badly for Mexico, several broadsides appeared which purported to be written by women, clearly intended to shame Mexico's adult males for failing to protect them. One such poem, When the Women Oppose the Cowardly Men, concludes with the following lines:

If male hearts
Succumb to fear,
May the wretches remember
There are women still
Who know how to fight
And know how to die
Man will be humbled
But the proud woman . . . Never!

American soldiers expressed markedly different views of Mexican women. Many, who had read the epic historical novels of Sir Walter Scott, imagined themselves as knights errant on a great crusade; their dreams of adventure in a foreign land contained unmistakably romantic and sexual undertones. Coexisting with the racism of the period was an exalted view of Mexican womanhood that fueled the heroic fantasies of U.S. troops, many of whom regarded Mexican women as damsels in distress, eager to be rescued by virile Anglo Americans. Dime novelists helped to reinforce these ideas, producing a sizable body of literature--such novels as The Volunteer or, The Maid of Monterey by Ned Buntline or The Hunted Chief: or the Female Ranchero by Newton Curtis—in which Mexican women fell in love with American soldiers, thereby presenting the war as an allegory of sexual conquest.

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