The Woman Soldier (2015)


Justino Tesoro and Maria Ruggiero in Emily Sweeney’s play, “The Woman Soldier.” Photo by Tom Kochie.

The Woman Soldier by Emily Sweeney

Click here to watch “The Woman Soldier” on YouTube.

(Scene opens in the front yard of a house in Concord, Massachusetts during the year 1777, with Josephine washing clothes and hanging them to dry. Josephine, a young, confidently independent girl, is talking with a very dear friend named Thomas. Thomas is a young man not much older than Josephine, but he is a ‘Patriot’ … a member of the Continental Army… who just stopped to say goodbye to Josephine after a short leave from the battle).

Josephine: (Josephine is beating clothes against a rock for washing, then hanging them to dry) I am fourteen years old, just like you! I don’t understand why I am not allowed to be part of this battle?

Thomas: You can be part of this battle, if you really want to. You could have the most important job! You could follow us patriots and sew our clothes, cook our meals, tend to our sick, and wash our laundry. That’s what women do!

Josephine: (Josephine stops doing laundry and faces Thomas with a stern look) I don’t want to be the one cooking and taking care of the injured… to be on the sidelines. (Josephine begins playing with her necklace) I want to be out there fighting for what I think is right! Do you remember when my mom gave me this necklace? She told me to always keep it on to help me remember that a piece of her is always with me. She was strong and independent and would push me to do what I thought was right. Fighting for what I believe in is right!

Thomas: You are just being silly. Your mom didn’t mean going to battle and being on the front lines. Women are not meant to fight in wars. It is not allowed. Your mom knew this. We need you to either stay home and take care of our families or follow us and help with the chores. That is something your mom and I would agree on!

Josephine: Why do you all say I’m being silly? She would never think that! I’m every bit as capable as you are to fight for our freedom! What makes you so different from me?

Thomas: Do you really have to ask that question?

Josephine: Come on Thomas. I’m being serious!

Thomas: Then let’s be serious. Do you really want to know what it is like out there? The brutal honesty of it all?

Josephine: I want to see it for myself, be part of it, feel like I’m going something…not taking care of others, but actually standing up for what I believe in!

Thomas: Then listen to me… it’s hard, tiresome and grueling… it takes an emotional toll on you. The loss, grief and fear you feel every day. The doubt that you will make it out alive. Is this getting through to you? Do you want to hear more? Should I keep on going?

Josephine: I hear what you are saying, but it doesn’t change how strongly I feel about this. I want to be part of this. I want to fight!

Thomas: (Thomas moves to sit on a rock) Fighting in a war changes who you are. It changes your outlook on life… if you make it out alive. The memories don’t go away…the smell…the sounds…they stay with you. The death…it’s always there, it surround you and takes over. Even if you make it out alive…part of you dies.

Josephine: You’ve been fighting in this war for six months. You started as a water carrier and now you’re a private! You seem to be doing just fine.

Thomas: Are you serious? You know what it was like for me after I lost my brother in the Battle of Lexington! What I went through!

Josephine: But you went back.

Thomas: Not out of choice, but out of obligation…and for my brother.

Josephine: Well I want to fight out of choice!

Thomas: (Thomas places his hand on Josephine’s shoulder). You don’t get it, do you! You just don’t understand!

(Thomas walks offstage shaking his head and heads back to join his fellow soldiers. Josephine watches him walk off and then turns, faces the audience and thinks out loud).

Josephine: I don’t understand why all the men in my life laugh when I say I want to fight for my freedom. Am I that different from my brothers or my best friend who are allowed to join the army and be a soldier? I can do what they do. I am just as strong and brave as they are! My brothers are always telling me that my job is to take care of them and the other brave soldiers who are fighting for our freedom. I am to cook for them and sew their uniforms. I am to mend their wounds. ‘Women are not soldiers’ they tell me in that mightier than thou voice. ‘Women are meant to take care of us.’ Thomas is always saying that ‘you don’t know what it is like to fight for our freedom, you just don’t understand.’ Well guess what! I want to know what it’s like and I want to understand! I am not going to sit back and let others fight for my freedom. I am going to stand up and fight for myself! If I can’t do it as Josephine Smith, I will do it as Joseph Smith…the newest addition to the Continental Army!

(Stage goes dark; Scene 1 closes)

Scene 2

(Josephine has managed to join the Continental Army as Joseph Smith. No one knows that ‘Joseph Smith’ is really a girl. Scene opens with ‘Joseph’ crouched behind a fallen tree with two fellow soldiers, smiling, ready for battle, rifles gripped strongly in their hands, resting on the tree trunk).

‘Joseph’: Come on guys! We’ve got this ! We can win this war! Another of our units is coming to help us, but we can’t wait. We should go in and end this! (Josephine turns toward the soldier on her right). “Don’t worry guys, everything will be fine.” (Josephine thinking) Why are they so worried and I’m not worried at all? What are they afraid of? They’ve been in the army longer than I have; maybe they’re just tired. We are going to win this battle and I am going to be part of it. Look me side by side with these men, an equal! They accept me as one of their own…as Joseph anyway. It’s only my name that makes me different from them. Finally I am fighting like the men do! (Gunshot rings out and Josephine snaps her head to the right toward Peter). 

‘Joseph’: Oh my God!…Peter’s been shot! He’s bleeding! What do I do? Someone help him! Peter! Peter! Peter! (‘Joseph’ checks Peter for a heartbeat behind the tree trunk). He’s dead. I should have done something, but what could I have done? (‘Joseph looks up quickly, places her rifle back on the tree trunk and stares out toward the audience). Someone’s coming! What do I do? What do I do?! I’ve never shot anyone before! I’ve never killed anyone! He’s coming! I hear him! I have to do something! I don’t want to die! (‘Joseph’, hands shaking, pulls the trigger and a shot goes off). Oh no! What did I do? Did I kill him? (‘Joseph’ moves toward the body) Move! Please! Get up! I didn’t want to kill you! I didn’t mean it! I just wanted to live! Did you have a wife? Children? Parents? What are they going to do? What have I done?! What have I done?! (Gunshot rings out; Josephine grabs her right shoulder and falls behind the tree trunk).

(Stage goes dark; Scene 2 closes)

Scene 3

(Scene opens with Josephine lying on the ground, necklace visible, unconscious but holding her shoulder. Thomas runs on stage towards ‘Joseph’, the fallen soldier. He kneels down next to the wounded soldier).

Thomas: Soldier! You’re bleeding. Can you hear me? (Thomas gently puts his hand on ‘Joseph’s’ face and turns her head toward him). Soldier! (Thomas notices the necklace and holds it in his hand). That necklace! Soldier! (Thomas stares at her face). Josephine? Josephine! (Thomas leans back in disbelief. Josephine’s eyes are still closed, but she stirs).

Josephine: (mutters) My name is Joseph Smith. (Josephine opens her eyes). Thomas? What happened? Thomas!

Thomas: Quiet! I have to stop this bleeding. Take this cloth and press it against your shoulder. Do it! I think I can stop the bleeding. I know I can do better than that field surgeon can. You’re not going to die on me! Keep that pressed against your shoulder. I’ll be right back. I have to get something to treat this wound. (Thomas stands up and walks toward his backpack, a few feet from Josephine, and turns to the audience and thinks out loud). What was she thinking becoming Joseph Smith? I just don’t understand her. Didn’t she listen to my stories? I’ve told her about the horrors of fighting in a war. The awful sounds of gunshots and screams for help… the smell of blood and death…what is it like watching your brother die in your arms. Why did she do this? Did she think it was going to be easy? Didn’t she understand that she could die? She should have listened to me. I told her that she didn’t understand what it meant to fight for the Continental Army… the sacrifices that are made… how brutal it is… what it does to a person… how it changes you. Why didn’t she listen to me? Now what am I supposed to do? I can’t let her continue to fight. I am not going to lose another important person in my life! I have to convince her that this is not the life for her. She has to leave the army. I know what I have to do… even if it means losing our friendship! She has two choices. She will either take the medical discharge that I will offer her or I will tell everyone in her unit that she is not Joseph Smith, a young man from Concord, Massachusetts, but instead is Josephine Smith! She doesn’t have a choice… she won’t want the soldiers to know she is not a man. She will decide to take the medical discharge. (Thomas turns toward Josephine and walks back to her and crouches down to talk to her). Josephine, listen to me! I can’t lose another person I care about. You now have two choices. You can take the medical discharge you’ve earned with this wound… like any other soldier would… or I am going to tell your unit that you are not Joseph; you are Josephine!

Josephine: Because I am Josephine, your friend, I have to choose? If I was Joseph, would I still have to choose?

Thomas: Don’t fight with me about this. I am trying to keep you safe. You’ve already proved yourself as an equal to the other soldiers, but that is not what this is about. Josephine, I can’t lose you. I couldn’t do anything about my brother, but I can do something to save you. The army doesn’t let women fight in the war. You may have proved them to be wrong, but that is the way it is! That regulation gives me the ability to protect you… and I will do just that. Josephine, I have to.

Josephine: (Josephine stares up at Thomas and then places her hand on his arm). Thomas, maybe you are right. I didn’t understand what it was like to fight in a war, but now I do! I understand why you need to protect me and I love you for it! I know I have to make a decision. I am going to take the medical discharge. I proved to myself that I am no different than you or my brothers. I am strong enough to fight in the war, but I am also smart enough to know that it is time for me to return home! I will share my story with others. Who knows, maybe people will begin to realize that women can handle the same responsibilities that men can!

(Stage lights fade; scene 3 closes).


The writer, cast and crew of “The Woman Soldier.” Photo by Tom Kochie.

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