Add this to section of your website

Martha Summerhayes: An Adventurous Army Wife

As one year ends and another dawns, I often find myself in a nostalgic frame of mind. The sentimental part of me wants to hold on to all the sweetness of the previous year, while the adventurous part of me is excited for what opportunities the new year might hold. As an Army wife, it is rare that a new year begins without some expectation of a fairly dramatic change to my family’s life.

Already this year we are anticipating our next PCS, which will likely be an international move.

While another PCS was expected, an international one was quite the surprise and has caused all sorts of varying emotions. This first month of the new year, however, is an excellent opportunity for me, and perhaps for you too, to embrace change!


As someone who often draws inspiration from history, I find that a helpful example of embracing change comes from the life of Martha Summerhayes. 



A photo of Martha Summerhayes from her published book, Vanished Arizona.

Martha Summerhayes was a nineteenth-century Army wife who experienced many adventures and trials in her twenty-five years with the Army (Summerhayes, 252). Martha and her husband Jack spent a great deal of his career with the Army in the truly wild lands of Arizona, which Martha recalled in her outstanding book, Vanished Arizona: Recollections of the Army Life by a New England Woman (1911).

The Arizona Martha lived in was a far different place than it is now, of course. Its untamed nature resulted in not just adventures, but also great difficulties and deprivations to the point that Martha came near to death (87-89, 101, 149-152, 156-157).

But, through all the tribulations and joys that Martha endured in her quarter century of Army life, she grew to love the adventures it brought to her. 


Martha’s Year in Germany


Martha’s unique experiences with the military started long before she became an Army wife. While she was still a single young woman, Martha visited Germany, as she described in the first chapter of Vanished Arizona (5-10). Regrettably, Martha did not explain how this opportunity came about, apart from saying that her father at last agreed to this year-long visit (9).

This year, as wonderful as it was for Martha, did require that she face and embrace many different types of change. Her New England upbringing left her unprepared for common German customs while she also wrestled with the language barrier and adjusted to living with a German family.


Martha’s willingness to adapt to these differences is a useful template for how we too can make room for change in our lives. 


Of all the changes Martha’s year in Germany brought to her, perhaps foremost of all was the adjustment she made to living with a German-speaking military family, the Westes. General Weste had served in Hanover’s army for fifty years until his retirement, and his career continued to shape the family’s identity even in their golden years (5).

Martha was intrigued by the descriptions of Army life that Frau Weste provided for her – that is, once she began to understand a bit of German. Martha spoke very little German upon her arrival and only gradually began to understand more.

Frau Weste helped with this by forcing immersive learning on her young friend as she rattled off story after story in her native tongue, leaving Martha baffled (6). But Martha was keen to learn, thanks to a long-standing interest in German literature (9).

She not only willingly embraced change by studying German language, literature, and culture during her year with the Westes, but she also relished in embracing these changes (9). 

Martha, whose New England home was a “half Quaker, half Puritan” town, was unaccustomed to many common aspects of German life (8).

Whereas her upbringing caused her look with suspicion on the theater, Martha began enjoying the weekly German tradition of attending the theater for plays and orchestral performances (8).

She reveled in learning the language and understanding German modes of thinking, which were so different from typical New Engand mentalities (9, 7). Perhaps most of all, Martha was intrigued by the German Army customs. 


Glittering Misery



The Hanoverian Standard

Frau Weste generously shared with Martha stories of her life with General Weste in the Hanoverian Army (6). Additionally, Martha met their old Army acquaintances, whom Martha described as “old-fashioned and precise,” as well as active duty officers (7-9).

All these experiences filled Martha with admiration for the military. She recalled: “Thus I came to know military life in Germany, and I fell in love with the army, with its brilliancy and its glitter, with its struggles and its romance, with its sharp contrasts, its deprivations, and its chivalry” (7). 

Frau Weste was quick to caution Martha to hold a realistic perspective. She warned Martha that ““life in the army is not always so brilliant as it looks; in fact, we often call it, over here, ‘glaenzendes Elend’”” (10).

This phrase translates to “glittering misery,” a descriptor that proved accurate many times in Martha’s own twenty-five years of American Army life (54, 194).


Courage to Embrace Change


Once Martha married Jack in 1874 and joined the Army as a spouse, she quickly realized that Army life was often anything but glamorous. However, she courageously embraced change in her adventures with the Army, just as she embraced change during her year in Germany.

True, her year in Germany was one of privileges, whereas much of her Army life was filled with hardships (9). But her resilient, adventurous, and courageous spirit carried her through the benefits and the deprivations of Army life in the west, just as she willingly plunged into living in a country where she neither spoke the language nor knew its customs. 


In future posts, I will certainly write more about Martha’s experiences in Arizona, but for now I am encouraged by her attitude towards change.



This image of Camp McDowell comes from my antique copy of Vanished Arizona, which I happened to find in an antique shop in Bisbee, Arizona.

The changes that come with military life can feel daunting, perhaps even more so as the dawn of a new year holds a plethora of uncertainties in front of us all.


Just like Martha, however, we too can embrace the changes that come our way.


Perhaps some changes will be exciting and glamorous, like Martha’s year in Germany, and others might be difficult, like many of Martha’s experiences in Arizona.


Regardless of what happens this year, with courage, hope, and a willingness to embrace change, we can thrive and enjoy this adventurous life! 






*For more of Anna’s historical military spouse perspective, check out her M:M Author Page



Summerhayes, Martha. Vanished Arizona: Recollections of the Army Life by a New England Woman. Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platforms, 2017. First published 1911. 



  • Anna Fitzpatrick Layer

    Anna Fitzpatrick Layer is an Army wife, a mother of two young children, and a historian. Anna met the love of her life, Jacob, while studying history at Cedarville University. Life took her and Jacob in different directions after graduation, during which period Anna obtained an MA in History from Villanova University. During grad school, she and Jacob reconnected and began dating again – even though he was deployed to the Middle East at the time! She and Jacob married in 2016, at which point Anna joined Jacob at Fort Riley, Kansas. In addition to Fort Riley, they have been stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Fort Cavazos, Texas; Fort Meade, Maryland; and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Anna truly loves the adventure of military life and the chance it provides to explore new places! She has found great joy in getting to know other military spouses and in forging friendships by sharing the blessings and trials of military life. In addition to being an Army wife, Anna worked as an online history teacher for several years before becoming a mother. Now, she and Jacob have a three year old little girl, a 6 month old baby boy, and a Golden Retriever who thinks she’s the firstborn child. Anna continues to pursue her passion for history by researching the American Revolution and the Civil War and by collecting (and trying to find the time to read) as many history books as her patient husband will happily move. Besides her love of history, Anna also enjoys playing the harp, baking way too many sweets, studying the Bible, cuddling her Golden Retriever, knitting, and most of all spending time with her family.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Mission: Milspouse is a
501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

EIN Number: 88-1604492


P.O. Box 641341
El Paso, TX 79904


Pin It on Pinterest

Verified by ExactMetrics