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Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Lacy Walden has been interning at Fort Scott NHS

  • Lacy Walden is now something of an expert on how laundry was done during the 1840s at Fort Scott.



    She learned that, and many other interesting things about women’s lives at the fort, during her 16-week internship there through SCA (Student Conservation Association).

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  • Lacy Walden is now something of an expert on how laundry was done during the 1840s at Fort Scott.
    She learned that, and many other interesting things about women’s lives at the fort, during her 16-week internship there through SCA (Student Conservation Association).
    “I came here at the end of August and I’m leaving on Monday,” Walden said.
    She said she began exploring the idea of getting an internship after receiving her bachelor of science from the University of  Indiana.
    “I had studied history, and I knew I didn’t want to teach,” Walden said. “After graduating I spent four months searching and found this position. What I have is an interpretation internship.”
    SCA is America’s conservation corps, and members protect and restore national parks, marine sanctuaries, cultural landmarks and community green spaces in all 50 states.
    “There are a lot of internships available in the environmental field and biological sciences, and not so many in history,” Walden said.
    She was delighted to find an internship available at Fort Scott.
    “I wanted to go west, and Kansas is west of Indiana,” she said. “I like being able to share with the public and educate people, just in a non-classroom setting. I like giving tours and talking to people. I try to not just give them facts, but give them a connection with facts.”
    Walden has done extensive research on the women of Fort Scott.
    “There are a billion books written on the lives of soldiers, but women’s history is just opening up,” she said.
    She explained that the women on the fort itself consisted of the laundresses, who were the only women recognized by the U.S. Army as having an official right to be on the fort, and the wives of officers, who had no official status with the army.
    There were also other camp followers, not actually on the fort premises but nearby, who included women of  dubious reputation.
    “On Labor Day I portrayed a laundress and told people what they did, and for Cato Days, I was a Civil War widow,” Walden said. “I also dressed up as an officer’s wife for a night tour. I’ve been able to play a lot of characters and it’s been a lot of fun.”
    She said that the laundresses tended to be immigrants, usually Irish or Italian, and many of them were illiterate.
    “They rubbed the wool uniforms with chalk to clean them because they couldn’t wash them,” Walden said. “What they did wash was mainly the men’s underwear. They made their own soap and the irons they used were made of cast iron. In the summer, and sometimes even during the winter, they would set up along the river to do their washing. They called it ‘Suds Row’.”
    Page 2 of 2 - It was very hard work, but the women received $8 a month, which was a decent wage and about the same amount the men received.
    “The company store would get paid first every month, the laundresses would be paid second, and the men got what was left,” Walden said.
    However, they were at the bottom rung of the social ladder.
    “The laundresses couldn’t even walk in front of ‘Officers Row’,” she said.
    The wives of officers had a much easier time of it.
    “Many of these women were from the east, from upper class families,” she said. “They had servants, but often complained that it was difficult to keep them. There were so few women here that even old and ugly women could come here and find a husband.”
    Officers’ wives could read, play piano, do needlework and tend their herb gardens.
    “They had the whole Victorian cult of women, but they were out here on the prairie,” Walden said. “It wasn’t so much a matter of keeping up with the Joneses but of creating something to keep up with the Joneses.”
    She enjoyed learning about fashions of the past, and was able to wear a lot of different clothes  representing different eras.
    “Hoop skirts are the best invention ever,” Walden said. “Before then, women had to wear so many petticoats, and the petticoats would get caught around your legs and make it hard to walk. Hoop skirts have so much more room for you to move.”
    Of course, the invention of hoop skirts also meant that doors and stairways had to be built wider to accommodate the skirts.
    Walden is sorry that her internship is coming to an end.
    “It’s gone by a lot quicker than I thought, and parts of me want to stay around Fort Scott,” she said. “We have so many trees in Indiana that you can’t see all around. The sky is Kansas is huge, and I’m going to miss being able to see the weather three counties away.”
    Walden said that her SCA internship has exceeded her expectations.
    “I would highly recommend it to  students,” she said. “SCA has given me a living stipend, a house to live in and I’ll be getting an Education Award from AmeriCorps.”
    Walden has applied for seasonal jobs with the National Park Service and would like to become a park ranger some day.
    "The parks are a really good way to hang on to the things we have as citizens,” she said. “I’d like to be able to protect that.”

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