Vivandières and Cantinières in Other Armies

The participation of vivandières and cantinières in non-French armies remains one of the most under-researched topics in military history. The participation of American women on both sides of the American Civil War as vivandières is now fairly well known, even if this chapter of history did fade from the public view for a century or more after that war. However, to my knowledge, there exists no serious scholarly study of the many women who served as vivandières in that war. Records certainly exist, and there is a good deal of photographic evidence, but this topic seems confined mostly to amateur historians and re-enactors, who have once again beaten academic historians to the punch.

Less well known, but still very real, women definitely served as vivandières and cantinières in the armies of Belgium and many of the German states, and the equivalent of a vivandiere or cantiniere in the Netherlands army was the marketenster. There is also fragmentary evidence that the armies of Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and numerous South American countries also had women serving in these capacities. Each of these nations deserves a book-length study by an expert.

Likewise, there is evidence that the Russian army had markitantki who apparently fulfilled similar roles. To my knowledge, no historian writing in any of the Western languages has made any study of these women; their story remains a major gap in the study of Russian women's and military history.

Spanish vivandières, 1875.

An illustration from The Graphic showing Spanish army vivandières during the Carlist insurrection (also known as The Third Carlist War) against King Alphonso XII, c. 1875. The history of vivandières outside of France and the United States is almost completely unknown, making for a very fertile field for future historical research.

There may well be other armies who had vivandières and cantinières or their equivalent. Women's participation in military affairs has generally been a topic ignored and even attacked by male historians for many years. More recently, historians have expended a good deal of ink on exploring the lives of women who disguised themselves as men in order to fight in battle in the early modern period, and on the modern female soldiers of 20th and 21st century militaries. The topic of official female auxiliaries of the 18th and 19th centuries, though, remains seriously underexplored.

What is needed is a series of country-by-country studies, each done by an expert in that country. Once that is done, we can start to synthesize the work of the various national experts into a broader appreciation of the role of female military auxiliaries in modern and early modern armies. Given the difficulties and obstacles I found in researching French vivandières and cantinières, I expect this will be the work of many years.