In many ways, the coming of the Civil War challenged the
ideology of Victorian domesticity that had defined the lives of men and women
in the antebellum era. In the North and in the South, the war forced women into
public life in ways they could scarcely have imagined a generation before.
years before the Civil War, the lives of American women were shaped by a set of
ideals that historians call “the Cult of True Womanhood.” As men’s work moved
away from the home and into shops, offices and factories, the household became
a new kind of place: a private, feminized domestic sphere, a “haven in a
heartless world.” “True women” devoted their lives to creating a clean,
comfortable, nurturing home for their husbands and children.
During the Civil War, however, American women turned their
attention to the world outside the home. Thousands of women in the North and
South joined volunteer brigades and signed up to work as nurses. It was the
first time in American history that women played a significant role in a war
effort. By the end of the war, these experiences had expanded many Americans’
definitions of “true womanhood.”
Fighting for the Union
outbreak of war in 1861, women and men alike eagerly volunteered to fight for
the cause. In the Northern states, women organized ladies’ aid societies to
supply the Union troops with everything they needed, from food (they baked and
canned and planted fruit and vegetable gardens for the soldiers) to clothing
(they sewed and laundered uniforms, knitted socks and gloves, mended blankets
and embroidered quilts and pillowcases) to cash (they organized door-to-door
fundraising campaigns, county fairs and performances of all kinds to raise
money for medical supplies and other necessities).
But many women
wanted to take a more active role in the war effort. Inspired by the work of Florence Nightingaleand her fellow nurses in the Crimean War, they tried to find a way to work on
the front lines, caring for sick and injured soldiers and keeping the rest of
the Union troops healthy and safe.
In June 1861,
they succeeded: The federal government agreed to create “a preventive hygienic
and sanitary service for the benefit of the army” called the United States
Sanitary Commission. The Sanitary Commission’s primary objective was to combat
preventable diseases and infections by improving conditions (particularly “bad
cookery” and bad hygiene) in army camps and hospitals. It also worked to
provide relief to sick and wounded soldiers. By war’s end, the Sanitary
Commission had provided almost $15 million in supplies–the vast majority of
which had been collected by women–to the Union Army.
women worked more directly for the Union war effort. Working-class white women
and free and enslaved African-American women worked as laundresses, cooks and
“matrons,” and some 3,000 middle-class white women worked as nurses. The
activist Dorothea Dix, the superintendent of Army nurses, put out a call for
responsible, maternal volunteers who would not distract the troops or behave in
unseemly or unfeminine ways: Dix insisted that her nurses be “past 30 years of
age, healthy, plain almost to repulsion in dress and devoid of personal
attractions.” (One of the most famous of these Union nurses was the writer
Louisa May Alcott.)
traveled from hospital to hospital, providing “humane and efficient care for
wounded, sick and dying soldiers.” They also acted as mothers and
housekeepers–“havens in a heartless world”–for the soldiers under their care.
women in the South threw themselves into the war effort with the same zeal as
their Northern counterparts. The Confederacy had less money and fewer resources
than did the Union, however, so they did much of their work on their own or
through local auxiliaries and relief societies. They, too, cooked and sewed for
their boys. They provided uniforms, blankets, sandbags and other supplies for
entire regiments. They wrote letters to soldiers and worked as untrained nurses
in makeshift hospitals. They even cared for wounded soldiers in their homes.
Many Southern women,
especially wealthy ones, relied on slaves for everything and had never had to
do much work. However, even they were forced by the exigencies of wartime to
expand their definitions of “proper” female behavior.
women were, of course, not free to contribute to the Union cause. Moreover,
they had never had the luxury of “true womanhood” to begin with: As one historian
pointed out, “being a women never saved a single female slave from hard labor,
beatings, rape, family separation, and death.” The Civil War promised freedom,
but it also added to these women’s burden. In addition to their own plantation
and household labor, many slave women had to do the work of their husbands and
partners too: The Confederate Army frequently impressed male slaves, and
slaveowners fleeing from Union troops often took their valuable male slaves,
but not women and children, with them. (Working-class white women had a similar
experience: While their husbands, fathers and brothers fought in the Army, they
were left to provide for their families on their own.)
A Women’s Proper Place?
the Civil War, women especially faced a host of new duties and
responsibilities. For the most part, these new roles applied the ideals of
Victorian domesticity to “useful and patriotic ends.” However, these wartime
contributions did help expand many women’s ideas about what their “proper
place” should be.
Clancy's comment: Sadly, women have always been underated for their efforts. Go, girls!
I've always believed in kids playing sport. It's a great leveller, and it teaches them to compete and learn co-ordination, to work as a team, and to win and lose. Not only, it gets them away from computers and mobile phones and allows them to stay fit. A lot of positive things, eh? Don't forget, kids come home tired, eat like a horse and sleep like babies.
Here are some great snaps of kids playing sport.
Clancy's comment: Yep, great to be involved in sport, but some parents take it too far. Australia is a great sporting nation and we punch above our weight. However, sadly here, far too much money is spent on sport and it's promotion, to the detriment of the arts. Writers, musicians, illustrators, screenwriters, and artists all struggle.