Women played a vital role in the war effort in both the North and South • Kept “the home fires burning” • Nurses • Fundraisers • Authors • Advocates • Laundresses, camp helpers • Spies • Soldiers.....and many more
We will simplify this into 4 broad categories: • Homefront • Healing • Helping • Heroines
Love letters and hardships July 14, 1861My very dear Sarah:I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt .... something whispers to me... that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. • If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name.....But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again . . .
“Keep the home fires burning” • When soldier’s left home to fight, women had to pick up the slack – taking over in the fields and factories in the North. • In the South as the war dragged on and the Anaconda Plan and “Total War” came into play, women of the slaveholding elite, unused to hard labor, found themselves working the fields alongside of the slaves as food in the south dwindled and people began to starve. Poor women picked up factory work and competed with slaves for low-paying jobs. Food shortages lead to high inflation and even rioting.
Poor Southern women suffered the most from the destruction of the South – they did not have money to pay for food and other necessities as inflation drove prices up 1000% • As the war stretched into 1864 and 1865, they began to encourage their husbands to desert, and they did, an average of 200 a day. • Large numbers of Widows create long-lasting social problems, especially in areas where women have few employment opportunities
The Impact of War • Women faced the psychological impact of war as their loved ones left home – perhaps never to return • Women sewed, knitted stockings, and saved their lint to make bandages for the wounded. • Women in areas in the path of the great armies faced tremendous hardships as their homes and fields were destroyed • They also faced the threat of rape and “dishonor”
Fund Raising • Women held benefits to raise money for the troops • In Chicago, a group of women raised over $100,000 for the US Sanitary Commission – a fortune in those days • In the South, a group of women raised enough money to build an ironclad warship!
African American Women • Many black women could not participate in support organizations , so they formed their own benevolent societies to serve the troops and the war effort. • For example: St. Thomas’s African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia had it’s own Ladies Sanitary Association , supporting Black Regiments. After 1865, these organizations supported the ex-slaves transitioning to freedom. • IN the South, many slaves helped the Union War effort by running away and offering their services to the troops (cooking, cleaning, nursing, etc, passing along information, or refusing to work/working less on the plantations. • Black women in the South filled in jobs left by men in factories and fields. They worked under white supervisors and were usually given the hardest or “dirtiest” jobs. When the labor shortage was at it’s peak, some were even able to claim wages for their work!
In Camp • Some officer’s wives stayed in camp with their husbands, setting up a “home away from home.” • Other women set up business, sometimes with husbands, sometimes independently – as laundresses, cooks, and as suppliers of hard to find items.
The Nurse • Before the Civil War, nursing was not a profession for women • The Civil War opened this as an opportunity for women as thousands of wounded and sick men strained the army surgical capabilities beyond their limit • Most female nurses served in hospitals, largely out of harms way.
Other nurses, like Clara Barton, became famous for their merciful care of the wounded on the battlefield
Dorthea “Dragon” Dix • Before the war, an advocate for the mentally ill • Appointed superintendant in charge of all female nurses in the Union Army in 1861
Dorthea Dix on Nurses’ requirements • “No woman under 30 years of age need apply to serve in government hospitals. All nurses are required to be very plain looking women. Their dresses must be brown or black, with no bows, no curls, no jewelry and no hoop skirts.”
Mary Ann Bickerdyke • Chief of nursing under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant. • When someone complained about her to Union Gen. William T. Sherman, he told him, "She ranks me.” • The common soldier loved her and nicknamed her "Mother" Bickerdyke • When a surgeon asked her on whose authority did she think she could boss him around, she replied, "On the authority of Lord God Almighty, have you anything that outranks that?”
Sally Thompkins • Southern woman in Virginia who ran a private hospital and a staff of 6 • Cared for 1333 wounded Confederate soldiers, losing only 73 – a record unmatched by any hospital during the war
US Sanitary Commission • “The war was fought at the end of the medical middle ages.” – Union Surgeon General • Surgeons didn’t disinfect instruments, didn’t know anything about germs or proper sanitation.
The United States Sanitary Commission was a government agency, created to organize, coordinate , and control the volunteer efforts of women who wanted to help the war effort
The volunteers raised money ($25 million), collected donations, worked as nurses, ran kitchens in the Army camps, administered hospital ships, made uniforms, and organized Sanitary Fairs to support the Federal army with funds and supplies. • Inspected camps and hospitals and made suggestions for improvement
Cut deaths by disease, infection –2/3 of deaths during the war was from disease – yet this is actually an improvement over statistics from the Crimean War in Europe the decade before.
“Public Women” • or camp followers... • Prostitution became widespread during the Civil War, especially in large cities where there were high populations of soldiers like Washington, DC and Nashville. • It was an occupation of “last resort” for women struggling to support themselves or their families during the war General Joe Hooker
Southern Spies • Rose O’Neal Greenhow - A popular society hostess in Washington, DC, she used her contacts to gain information to pass to the Confederacy. • Imprisoned for a time for her espionage • Died when the blockade runner she was traveling on was sunk by Union ships.
Belle Boyd • Belle Boyd – young, beautiful-She passed information on Union army movements in the Shenandoah to General T. J. (Stonewall) Jackson, and was imprisoned as a spy.
Northern Spies • Elizabeth Van Lew – abolitionist placed as a spy in Jeff Davis’ house • Harriet Tubman set up a spy network in South Carolina using her skills honed as a conductor on the Underground Railroad
Soldiers • “I have the honor to inform you that no official record has been found in the War Department showing specifically that any woman was ever enlisted in the military service of the United States as a member of any organization of the Regular or Volunteer Army at any time during the period of the civil war. “
Estimated 400-500 women, North and South, served as soldiers during the Civil War. • How? No medical exams prior to enlistment • Soldiers didn’t undress or use the “facilities” in front of each other – often wore the same clothes for months on end • Some men knew but kept the secret • Poor nutrition and hard labor meant many women did not menstruate
Lt. Harry Buford Loretta Velazquez
Why did they enlist? • Patriotism or desire for adventure • Women working traditional occupations earned about $3/month – soldiers earned $13/month – plus there were enlistment bonuses • To be close to husbands or sweethearts • When discovered – imprisoned and disgraced • Many were not discovered until wounded…or killed.