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Kady Southwell Brownell (1843-1915)

Kady Southwell was born around 1843 in South Africa to the French wife of Colonel George Southwell, a Scotsman in the British army, supposedly on a battlefield on the Eastern Cape. According to the lore, not long after her birth, Kady’s mother died and the infant was taken in by family friends, the McKenzies, who brought her to Rhode Island. She met her husband, Robert Brownell, while working at a mill in Central Falls, Rhode Island. When the American Civil War began, Robert enlisted and Kady insisted on serving with him. She is one of a few women who participated in combat during the Civil War, at Bull Run (Sharpsburg) and New Bern. Some said that she was an expert shot, known for quickness and accuracy, and handled a sword as well as any man could. After the war, pursuing an acting career, Kady moved to New York where she became a familiar figure in the city’s annual Decoration Day parade, wearing her impressive Zouave costume complete with war souvenirs and sword. She managed to join the Grand Army of the Republic and also secured a Union veteran pension of $8 per month in 1884. Kady Brownell’s story was the stuff of legend even during her lifetime, and she helped to perpetuate her fame through her tableaux at GAR entertainments and public appearances. Despite this, she died impoverished in a New York relief hospital on January 15, 1915. Her husband solicited money from friends for her NBG memorial. Read More...

C. Morgan Grefe Ph.D, Executive Director, Rhode Island Historical Society