As Pride Month celebrations are in full force, the Soldiers Memorial Military Museumis paying homage to LGBTQ+ community members who served in the armed forces.
Although LGBTQ+ contributions to the military are not often highlighted in history books, members of the community have served in the U.S. military since its inception.
“The father of what would become the U.S. Army, General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, was gay,” says Marvin Greer, education and visitor experience lead at Soldiers Memorial Military Museum. “In the Civil War, transgender soldier Albert Cashier served in the 95th Illinois Infantry and was stationed at Benton Barracks in today’s Fairgrounds Park. Cashier had to hide his identity in a time when soldiers bathed together in rivers and lakes, and privacy was not common. He was described by soldiers that knew him as being quiet and enjoyed being by himself. This may have been a survival technique he learned as a young man.”
Cashier is often cited as being a woman who masqueraded as a man in order to serve, but further research into his life suggest he was transgender.
“While the word transgender was not around in the 1860s, Cashier lived his life as a man after immigrating to the U.S. from Ireland,” Greer says. “Cashier’s gender assigned at birth was discovered after being hospitalized in 1914. The government attempted to take his pension and charge him with fraud. His fellow veterans and members of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) rallied behind him, and he was able to keep his pension, and the charges were dropped. … I believe they saw him not a man, nor a woman. They saw Cashier as a fellow soldier who risked his life to put down the slaveholders’ rebellion and restore the Union. … He died the next year and was buried in uniform will full military honors in Illinois.”
The transgender community has been increasingly under assault in the United States in the 21st century, so Cashier’s narrative has remained relevant.
“Albert Cashier’s story helps illuminate the similarities between us and our 19th century ancestors,” Greer says. “He is a reminder of the courage, loyalty, vision and sacrifice that LGBTQ+ members of the armed forces dedicate their lives to. They serve to protect the rights of people who won’t let them use the bathroom or sell them a wedding cake. They serve not for the LGBTQ+ community; they serve for all Americans. By highlighting the accomplishments of the LGBTQ+ community, Soldiers Memorial is able to facilitate a guest’s discovery of the diverse and complex histories of our region.”
Former USO trumpet player Lucy Rhinehart, who was a young adult during World War II, also lived in a time when it was not easy to be herself.
“She was fond of the drummer, Helen Montgomery, but they hid that fondness until they left the USO and came to St. Louis where they settled into civilian life,” explains Sharon Smith, curator of civic and personal identity for the Missouri Historical Society. “Of course, they still couldn’t live as a couple. Because they looked a little alike, they sold their closeness as sisters. Today, we might look at Lucy’s and Monty’s story with a bit of sadness; they couldn’t live openly as a couple. That is what Pride Month is all about – telling our stories and knowing they are the stories of many.”
Although Smith never had the opportunity to interview her, she heard Rhinehart tell some of her story to a group of women from CHARIS: The St. Louis Women’s Chorus.
“We were planning a concert of USO music, and one of our chorus members knew Lucy,” Smith says. “We met with Lucy so she could talk to us some about her time in the USO. She wasn’t very forthcoming about any stories of the hardships. But, when she did talk about Helen, she got that sparkle in her eye. This lifetime couple would never have the chance to marry, yet they were committed to each other for life.”
When Rhinehart settled in St. Louis, she and Montgomery performed around town as part of the Lu-Wows.
“They played at various restaurants around the area,” Smith says. “We have one of the albums they recorded; this particular album was recorded at the Flaming Pit. I never got to ask Lucy about that part of hers and Helen’s life. This is a story I want to research more.”
Rhinehart’s USO uniform is currently on display at Soldiers Memorial Military Museum.
“For Soldiers Memorial, this is a great story of not only a woman in the USO, but also that she was a lesbian,” Smith says. “More of her items will be on display in the LGBTQ+ exhibit which will open at the Missouri History Museum in 2025. Lucy’s story is one of complexity, and I want to explore all angles of her story as we move forward in our plans for that exhibit.”
In September of this year, Human Rights Campaign St. Louis will present the Missouri Historical Society (MHS), with the Advocate for Equality Award at their annual St. Louis Dinner & Auction. MHS, which operates Soldiers Memorial Military Museum, the Missouri History Museum, and a Library and Research Center on Skinker Blvd., is being recognized for its LGBTQ+ Collecting Initiative.
Soldiers Memorial is open daily 10am – 5pm. Admission is free.
(Upper left photo: Multicolored striped nylon banner fragment for Pride St. Louis. Missouri Historical Society Collections.)