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Patriots, Prostitutes, and Spies

Women and the Mexican-American War
John M. Belohlavek

BUY Cloth · 320 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813939902 · $45.00 · Jul 2017
BUY Ebook · 320 pp. · ISBN 9780813939919 · $35.00 · Jul 2017
BUY Paper · 320 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813946405 · $35.00 · Jan 2021

In Patriots, Prostitutes, and Spies, John M. Belohlavek tells the story of women on both sides of the Mexican-American War (1846-48) as they were propelled by the bloody conflict to adopt new roles and expand traditional ones.

American women "back home" functioned as anti-war activists, pro-war supporters, and pioneering female journalists. Others moved west and established their own reputations for courage and determination in dusty border towns or bordellos.

Women formed a critical component of the popular culture of the period, as trendy theatrical and musical performances drew audiences eager to witness tales of derring-do, while contemporary novels, in tales resplendent with heroism and the promise of love fulfilled, painted a romanticized picture of encounters between Yankee soldiers and fair Mexican senoritas.

Belohlavek juxtaposes these romantic dreams with the reality in Mexico, which included sexual assault, women soldaderas marching with men to provide critical supportive services, and the challenges and courage of working women off the battlefield. In all, Belohlavek shows the critical roles played by women, real and imagined, on both sides of this controversial war of American imperial expansion.


The women of Mexico and the United States played crucial and often celebrated roles in the 1846 war between the two neighboring republics, but the scope of their efforts on behalf of both war and peace was largely forgotten by the close of the century. Thanks to the detailed research of political historian John Belohlavek, their contributions are no longer obscure. Patriots, Prostitutes, and Spies brims with memorable characters and offers an easily accessible introduction to a war that deserves to be better remembered, as well as a consideration of the place of gender and women within it.

Amy S. Greenberg, Pennsylvania State University · A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico

"If the U.S.-Mexico War is one of our country’s ‘forgotten’ wars, then this is particularly true of the role that women played in it. With a flair for anecdotal detail, John Belohlavek examines the participation of women on both sides of the conflict. More than a book about the role of women, however, this study examines how women were perceived by men, and how these perceptions shaped the wartime experiences of both countries. Patriots, Prostitutes, and Spies is an important and much-needed addition to the scholarship of this important conflict."

Sam W. Haynes,, University of Texas at Arlington

Women affected the US-Mexican War of 1848 and the war affected women. Belohlavek (Univ. of South Florida) examines primary sources to show how both US and Mexican women reacted to the war, what they did to aid or dissent from the war, and how their lives were changed by it.... Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.


Patriots, Prostitutes, and Spies enlightens readers about women and the U.S.-Mexican War. As Belohlavek notes, "This work seeks to explore and recognize the courage, spirit, and influence of women heralded and unheralded, of varying backgrounds and nationalities, who powerfully impacted the war that changed the continent," and he succeeds in this endeavor.

The Journal of Southern History

The Mexican-American War is finally receiving the scholarly attention it deserves, yet remains largely absent from scholarship concerning women’s wartime experiences and contributions. John M. Belohlavek’s work "seeks to explore and recognize the courage, spirit, and influence of women... who powerfully impacted the war that changed the continent" (p. 2). His book’s scope is ambitious, examining both American and Mexican women of varying backgrounds and opinions.

Journal of American History

In Patriots, Prostitutes, and Spies, John M. Belohlavek undertakes an ambitious study, addressing an understudied topic. Focusing on the Mexican-American War, he specifically looks at women and their roles in and around the war.... Notably, this study includes women in both the U.S. and Mexico, providing a broadpicture of women’s history in the 1840s. It includes both the famous and the anonymous—soldiers, spies, camp followers, women supporters of the war and protesters, and those who wrote about the war as well as those who were written about.

American Historical Review

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