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Mary Fields was born a slave in Tennessee, but little else is known of her early life. Some historical accounts have placed her on the Mississippi River in the early 1870s, and at least one researcher claims that she was a passenger on the Robert E. Lee when it raced the steamer Natchez in June 1870. By 1884 Fields was living in Toledo, Ohio, where she worked as a handywoman for an order of Ursuline nuns. She became attached to the mother superior of the convent, Mother Amadeus, who is variously reported as a close friend or as the master in a master-servant relationship. Shortly after Fields arrived at the convent, Mother Amadeus left for Montana to open a school for Blackfeet Native American girls. When Mother Amadeus fell ill in Helena, Fields came to her aid and decided to stay in Montana.

Fields assisted the Catholic mission ...

Article

Kelli Cardenas Walsh

The story of Mary Fields is one of race, gender, and age. She was the antithesis of the nineteenth-century Victorian image of womanhood. In an age of domesticity, Fields lived a frontier life dependent upon no one and uninhibited by Jim Crow.

A former slave, in freedom Fields became an independent, gunslinging, liquor-drinking woman in the untamed frontier of Montana. She stood six feet tall and was stout. Details about the early life of Mary Fields are sparse, other than that she was born into slavery in 1832. Judge Dunn in Hickman County, Tennessee, owned Fields and presumably owned her family. She was befriended by her master’s daughter, Dolly, and remained with the family after Emancipation.

Once she left the Dunn family Fields spent an unspecified time in Ohio and along the Mississippi River During this time Dolly joined a convent of Ursuline nuns taking the name of ...