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Women of the Civil War Area, Research Paper Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1352

Research Paper

Introduction

Women’s equality has been an area of focus in social sciences recently. The public still assumes that women were enlightened during the 20th Century, and their equality was communicated openly. However, there are some examples of women’s independence movement from much earlier in the history. The below paper is attempting to review two sources from the era:  “Women at the front – Hospital workers in Civil War America” by Jane E. Schultz and  “Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly” By Jennifer Flesichner. The contemporary resources review will be focusing on how women look at the question of equal rights and independence.

Role of Women in the Civil War

Shultz’ book discusses the role of women during the war. As there were no men available for work and nursing the injured, there was a need for relief work provided by women. Further, the author also covers the question of equality. Women were not only equal to men, but there was no difference between skilled workers and professionals or black and white women. The contemporary role of women did not match working near the front, but because of the special circumstances created by the war, it became normal and accepted.

According to Shultz 1 over 20.000 women were participating in relief work during the Civil War. Some worked as matrons, others in the laundry or kitchen. 2 Interestingly, women from all walks of life discovered that they could do more with their lives than bearing children and running a household. According to Vapnek 3 the Declaration of Independence did indeed liberate women and assigned political and economic rights to females. The movement towards women becoming breadwinners started soon, and even some who came from elite backgrounds were seeking employment. 4 The Civil War did change the attitude of the society, which was based mainly on Victorian domesticity. The formation of volunteer brigades in 1861, immediately after the start of the war. 5

Dual Bibliography: The Role of Race

Flesichner, however, depicts the roles of women in a different way. She creates a dual bibliography contrasting the class perceptions, routes and values, as well as the difference in opportunities through two lifetimes. While Mary Todd Lincoln was born wealthy, Elizabeth Keckly was born a slave. The disappearance of gaps between races, classes and religions is well captured within the book. While the story of the friendship is supposed to be interesting and intriguing enough alone, the sociological aspect of the description is somewhat more important. Before the social changes that took place prior to the Civil War, leading towards conflict, it would have been impossible to form friendships with people outside of one’s class or race. The ideology of Lincoln did have a great impact on people in the present United States of America; not only empowering different social classes, but women alike.

Another source, 6 explains the different roles of women before and after the war. According to Chambers, the initial task was survival and the maintenance of home life. Women were plainly “left alone” home, as the governments of the two sides were only interested in winning the war, caring very little about those at home. They did not provide financial or emotional support for those whose lives it changed. Women were anxious about their loved ones’ lives and wanted to participate. That was the reason for the fast formation of “Bonnet Brigades”.  7 Indeed, Shultz 8 states that over ten percent of the women working on relief projects were of black origin. There were runaway slaves working at the home front, mentioned several times within the book. 9 Further, the reason for the increased activity of women did lie in economy. According to the author, 10 women had to become “self-supportive”. This need brought with it the realization that women could really look after themselves, and as Shultz states, they had a “spirit of independence”. 11 When describing the feeling of working in hospitals, she states that women finally had a long term perspective with the “staying power” to stay employed for years. 12 While women of well-off and white background were trying to maintain class and race boundaries, this was not always possible. From the research that is published in the book it is evident that a smaller proportion of women from black background were assigned higher value jobs than white women. White and high social status women were more likely to become “matrons”, while almost 80 percent of black women worked in the laundry or kitchen. 13

 Review of the Social Changes

The above book reviews have helped the authors determine the role of the American Civil War in the changes that took place in the society in later centuries. The important aspects of both books are summarized below.

  1. Women are left to their own resources. They need to work together. When the Civil War starts in 1861, women are not provided for by men, as they are all at the front fighting. As traditionally, men were supposed to be breadwinners, women have to find alternatives. This leads to them forming unions, providing work and getting employment in war hospitals. As they change their lifestyle, they realize that they are able to do paid work and many of them stay in employment for years after the civil war. Likewise, the story of the friendship between the First Lady and a former slave shows the power of working together and one woman relying on the other. When Mrs. Lincoln’s husband is killed, the friendship becomes even stronger.
  2. Race and class differences were still present during the Civil War and for some years to come. However, the need for workforce and the social changes brought with them the change of society’s attitude that finally resulted in the Civil Rights movement and the efforts of politicians to provide equal rights to people of black origin. However, the fact that Lincoln’s wife looked at a former slave as a “companion” proves that the ideology was present in some parts of the society already.

Conclusion

The role of women in the two books is described as one that goes through a change. The life of Lizzy in Flesichner’ s book changes completely after her friendship starts with the First Lady. She becomes a part of the family’s life and a celebrity in the Black community. She gets empowered by her friendship and the work she is able to provide for pay. Likewise, women at the home front doing relief work are becoming empowered by the fact that they are able to provide for themselves and their families. They are no longer happy with their restricted domestic role that has been assigned to them before the war by the Victorian society. They are not going to go back to housework, and will be likely to find paid employment after the war. This change of attitude and self-respect will lead to the Female Labor Movement 14

1 Shultz, J. Women at the front – Hospital workers in Civil War America. Chapel Hill. University of North Carolina Press. 2004. p. 2.

2 Ibid.,  p. 22.

3 Vapnek, L. Breadwinners: Working Women and Economic Independence, 1865-1920. University of Illinois Press, 2009 p. 1.

4 Ibid., p. 4.

5 History.com

6 Chambers, T. Civil War Women: Their Roles and Legacies. AuthorHouse, 2005  p. 5.

7 Ibid., p. 4.

8 Shultz, J. “Seldom Thanked, Never Praised, and Scarcely Recognized: Gender and Racism         in Civil War Hospitals” Civil War History  Volume 48, Number 3, September 2002 pp. 220-236  p. 220.

9 Shultz, J. Women at the front – Hospital workers in Civil War America. Chapel Hill. University of North Carolina Press. 2004. p. 22.

10 Ibid , 2004, p,. 12.

11 Ibid., 2004, p. 13.

12 Ibid., 2004, p. 108.

13 Ibid., 2004, p, 22.

14 Vapnek, L. Breadwinners: Working Women and Economic Independence, 1865-1920. University of Illinois Press, 2009 p. 13.

Bibliography

Chambers, T. Civil War Women: Their Roles and Legacies. AuthorHouse, 2005

History Channel. Women in Civil War. http://www.history.com/topics/women-in-the-civil-war (n.d.)

Shultz, J. Women at the front – Hospital workers in Civil War America. Chapel Hill. University of North Carolina Press. 2004.

Shultz, J. “Seldom Thanked, Never Praised, and Scarcely Recognized: Gender and Racism in Civil War Hospitals” Civil War History  Volume 48, Number 3, September 2002 pp. 220-236

Vapnek, L. Breadwinners: Working Women and Economic Independence, 1865-1920. University of Illinois Press, 2009

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