March is Women’s History Month! Today’s post comes from Madie Ward in the National Archives History Office.
Among the billions of documents in the National Archives, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero has a favorite: the 1898 letter from Annie Oakley to President William McKinley offering 50 American lady sharpshooters in the Spanish-American War.
When I asked why, he replied, “[It is] an example of why archives are not boring! Most people have a mindset that these kinds of institutions are full of boring and dusty pieces of paper. I constantly remind people that each of our 13 billion pieces of paper and parchment—and everything else we have in our holdings—tells a story.”
This story is about Phoebe Ann Moses, but more famously known as Annie Oakley for her superb marksmanship abilities. As a young teenager, she gained her exceptional shooting skills hunting game for a grocery store.
From 1882 to 1913, the sharpshooter was a famous attraction in many traveling shows around the United States and a renowned international star. She even entertained Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm II—she shot a cigarette out of the Kaiser’s mouth. She would go on to become a force in the Spanish-American War.
After the USS Maine was sunk in 1898, tensions ran high between Spain and the United States in their fight over Cuba. For months President William McKinley struggled to decide if war was the best option.
Finally, on April 25, Congress officially declared war on Spain in a battle for Cuba, beginning the Spanish-American War.
Three weeks before the declaration of war, Annie Oakley wrote to President McKinley, showing her strong conviction to serve her country to the best of her abilities. Dated April 5, 1898, Oakley volunteered to organize a regiment of 50 American female sharpshooters, who would supply their own ammunition and arms, should the nation go to war.
Her request was denied because women were not allowed to serve. The blue underlining in the letter indicates that it was passed on from the White House to the War Department to decline her offer.
However, her letter is an example of a strong woman who made a difference and left a lasting impact on the world. Her letterhead alone shows that she was a well-known and respected personality to many.
For Archivist Ferriero, Oakley was an example of a strong woman who created a persona and international entertainment empire around her “wild west” skills. She was a “woman to be reckoned with,” and she will always be revered for her examples of strength and determination.