Ladies at Arms - Who Knew?
by Claudia Houston, Historian, New Bern Historical Society
Did you know that the ladies in New Bern at one time had a Military Drill Company? The November 10, 1885, New Bern Daily Journal announced that “The Ladies of the Baptist Church Aid Society have been preparing an entertainment for Thanksgiving night, November 26th and one of the features of the entertainment will be a military drill by the young ladies of the society.” It appears this organization was formed sometime in 1885 for exhibition purposes and began under the auspices of the Middle Street Baptist Church, now known as First Baptist Church of New Bern.
A large crowd attended this drill. Twenty-four uniformed young ladies demonstrated the evolutions and manual of arms. Trained by Captain F.W. Hancock and led by Miss Minnie Eaton and Miss Sophia Jones, they had only been training for three weeks. The ladies’ drill company was praised for their execution and accuracy. It was noted in the newspaper the following day, “They have learned the first duty of a soldier which is also the first duty of a good wife, and that is to obey.”
Not much more was written about them until April 14, 1899, when the paper announced that the Aid Society of the Middle Street Baptist Church would present a drill at Stanly Hall at 9 o’clock on Friday, April 14, 1899. The charge was to be ten cents. In the newspaper on April 16, 1899, it was reported, “the music, floral decorations and delicious refreshments would have made it a success, but, when to these are added beautiful young ladies going through the Manual of Arms and executing a military maneuver as perfectly as a corps of West Point Cadets could have done, some other word is needed to characterize the evening’s entertainment.”
On April 26, 1899, a notice appeared in the New Bern Daily Journal written by Commanding Officer J.T. Hargett, to the Naval Reserves.
“You are ordered to assemble at your Armory tonight at 8p.m. in full uniform for inspection and to compete in drill against the Ladies Military Company. The Officers will wear the full blue uniform.”
During 1899 there were twenty-six women in the company, trained by Captain Thomas C. Daniels of the Naval Reserves. The women wore long stiff white skirts as uniforms that almost touched the ground, and sailor blouses with deep dark collars. They also wore jaunty white caps and broad dark belts. Each member had a gun. Officers wore naval militia caps and carried swords. The two female officers of the company were First Lieutenant Miss Bessie Foy and Second Lieutenant Mrs. Daisy Green Hurst. Others included Mrs. J.R. Bell, Mrs. J.O. Baxter, Mrs. Charles Hall, Mrs. J.B. Dawson, Mrs. F.H. Shipp, and Miss Nina Basnight. The women were drilled by Captain Daniels, and they obtained such proficiency that they won a competition over a man’s unit, presumably the April 26 contest.
This unit seemed to disappear after 1899 and little else is known. Regrettably we could find no photograph of this group, nor any reference to them in the history of the First Baptist Church. However, they will live on in the chronicles of entertainment in 19th century New Bern.