Civil War Secrets: Sarah Emma Edmonds

Contributor: Kathi Thomas. Lesson ID: 10459

What would you be willing to do for a cause? Sarah Emma Edmonds disguised as a man and joined the Union Army in the Civil War. Compare history and modern culture as you learn about her service.


United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Watch the video below on Sarah Emma Edmonds.

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Before learning more, check out the first Related Lesson in this series, found in the right-hand sidebar.

History records several women who served as soldiers during the Civil War. One such woman, disguised as a man, served as a private in the Union Army and eventually added additional disguises to move freely behind enemy lines.

Sarah Emma Edmonds lived a large part of her life as Franklin Thompson, first as a Bible salesman, then as a soldier and nurse, but also as a spy.

Sarah’s life began in a home where she was reportedly resented by her father for having been born female and was on the verge of being forced into an undesirable arranged marriage.

In a bold move that was considered very uncharacteristic for women of that period, Sarah chose to take control of her own life and left home, changing her last name from Edmondson to Edmonds in the process.

Eventually, she found herself in the United States living as a man, Franklin Thompson, to earn an income and support herself. When she heard there was a need for soldiers in the Union Army, she determined this was her calling and became a private in the Union Army.

Discover many of the details about her service as a male private in the Union Army as you read about Sarah Emma Edmonds.

As a young woman, Sarah left home without permission or assistance from her family.

  • What challenges do you think she would have faced as a young woman on her own in 1857?

Her decision to disguise herself as a man would have been considered outrageous had her true identity been discovered, yet she lived as a man for years. Explain some of the difficulties Sarah would have had as she tried to live her life as a member of the opposite sex without being discovered.

  • Would she have encountered these same difficulties if she had lived today?
  • What other types of challenges might she have faced in this modern era?

Continue on to the Got It? section.

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