02834 - 'Major' Pauline Cushman; Spy - United States of America [LC-DIG-cwpbh-02834]
Pauline Cushman had been an actress for eight years when the war started in 1861. Born in New Orleans in 1833 she had been working regionally as an actress, beginning in the New York area. She felt that her talents as an actress would make her an ideal spy. While touring in Kentucky in 1862 (which was in Union Hands) she was offered $300 to toast Jefferson Davis, realizing that this might be her chance to become a spy she approached the Provost Marshall, Colonel Moore about this idea. The next night while on stage she made a toast "Here's to Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy." With that she was promptly, dramatically and publicly fired from the theatre company.
Whisked into Southern lines – for her own “safety” she began to collect information for the Union cause. While attempting to return to Nashville in 1863 and pass along the information she was discovered and sentenced to death by General Braxton Bragg. Relying on her acting skills, she feigned illness to buy extra time. Three days prior to her execution the Union Army rescued her and she was returned to Northern lines. For her work President Lincoln awarded her the honorary title of “Major”.
She began dressing in an officers uniform (image is not part of the Library of Congress collection) and reportedly earned as much as $1,000 per week recounting her exploits to admiring throngs. For a time she was a headline act for P.T. Barnum at his “Barnum’s American Museum” in New York. Following the war her popularity declined and she moved west living in Arizona before settling in San Francisco where she remained a local celebrity occasionally mentioned in the paper. She was however, impoverished and worked in menial jobs to earn a living.
She was married three times and had lost three children (one adopted) when her health began to decline; she was crippled by rheumatism and arthritis. In 1893 at the age of 60 she was living under the name of Pauline Fryer and receiving a $12 per month pension from her first husband who had died during the war. She became addicted to opium to help with the pain of her medical condition and committed suicide by overdosing. Once again she was brought to national attention and was buried by a local veterans group in the officers section of the San Francisco National Cemetery. Her headstone reads “Pauline C. Fryer – Union Spy”.