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Pauline Cushman
Pauline Cushman.jpg
Born Harriet Wood
June 10, 1833
New Orleans, Louisiana
Died December 2, 1893(1893-12-02) (aged 60)
San Francisco, California
Other names Major Pauline Cushman Fryer, Pauline Fryer
Occupation Actress, Union Spy
Spouse(s) Jerry Fryer, August Fichtner, Chas C. Dickinson
Children Two, Charles and Ida

Pauline Cushman (Born Harriet Wood) (June 10, 1833 – December 2, 1897), was an American actress and a spy for the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Early lifeEdit

Harriet was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on June 10, 1833, the daughter of a Spanish merchant (son of one of Napoleon Bonaparte's soldiers ) and a Frenchwoman, who was the daughter of a Bordeaux winegrower. Harriet and her seven brothers were raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1851 she returned to her native Louisiana to join the performance group: New Orleans Varieties. Later she would travel to New York where she would take the stage name Pauline Cushman.


Pauline cushman by Brady, 1860s

Cushman circa 1860s

While touring with a theatrical troupe in Union-controlled Louisville, Kentucky, Pauline was paid by two local pro-Confederate men to toast Confederate President Jefferson Davis after a performance. The theatre fired her, but she had other ideas. She had decided to ingratiate herself with the rebels by making the toast, while offering her services to the Union as a spy. By fraternizing with rebel military commanders, she managed to conceal battle plans and drawings in her shoes, but was caught and brought before Confederate general Braxton Bragg, tried by a military court, and sentenced to death. It is said that she was saved three days before her hanging by the invasion of the area by Union troops. Some reports state that she returned to the South in her role as a spy dressed in male uniform for references. She was awarded the rank of Brevet Major by General James A. Garfield and commended by President Abraham Lincoln for her service to the Federal cause, and became known as "Miss Major" Cushman. By the end of the war in 1865 she was touring the country giving lectures on her exploits as a spy.

Later life and legacyEdit

Pauline became popular enough to be featured by P. T. Barnum, which perhaps explains why details of her story may well have become exaggerated. But because her undercover activities on behalf of the government were secret, it also helps to explain the lack of corroborative information about her life at this time. However, in 1865 a friend, Ferdinand Sarmiento, wrote her biography, The Life of Pauline Cushman: The celebrated Union spy and scout. Comprising her early history; her entry into the secret service notes and memoranda. (ASIN: B000857W12) She lost her children to sickness by 1868, and married again in 1872 in San Francisco, but was widowed within a year. Sources state that in 1879 she met Jere Fryer and moved to Casa Grande, Arizona Territory, where they married and operated a hotel and livery stable. He became the sheriff of Pinal County. An adopted daughter died, and they separated in 1890. By 1892 she was living in poverty in El Paso, Texas. She had applied for back pension based on her first husband's military service, which was granted in June 1895. Her last few years were spent in a boarding house in San Francisco, working as a seamstress and charwoman. Disabled from the effects of rheumatism and arthritis, she developed an addiction to pain medication, and on the night of 1 December 1897 she took an overdose of morphine, and was found the next morning by her landlady.

She had died as Pauline Fryer at the age of sixty. The time of her Civil War fame was recalled at her funeral, which was arranged by members of the Grand Army of the Republic. "Major" Cushman's remains now rest in Officer's Circle at the Presidio's National Cemetery in San Francisco. Her simple gravestone recognizes her contribution to the Union's victory. It is marked, "Pauline C. Fryer, Union Spy." [1] [2] [3]


  • Leo Banks, Stalwart Women: Frontier Stories of Indomitable Spirit (ISBN 0-916179-77-X)
  • William Christen, Pauline Cushman: Spy of the Cumberland (ISBN 978-1-889020-11-2)
  • Donald E. Markel, Spies & Spymasters of the Civil War (ISBN 0-7818-0227-X)
  • Lynn Swanson, A Union spy in 1863, Pauline Cushman was colorful, famous and unlucky. (ISSN 0889-7328)

External linksEdit

Due to conflicting details about her life, several source links are provided.

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