TheCivil War had lasting effects on the lives and role of women in post-warsociety.
As the opportunities for women to join the war effort arose, the normsof a domestic society started to change. The traditional domestic roles ofwomen, which included motherhood and taking care of the home, transformed aswomen took on the roles of spies, relief workers, and soldiers in the midst ofbattle. Women took on more logistical and considerably cunning roles by discreetlyexchanging information about their enemy sides without arousing suspicion. Themotivation for women to join the battlefield had originally arose from the needof assistance on the battlefield, but it quickly transformed into a movementthat had lasting effects on the entire society decades after. Whether it is wasthrough work as a spy or nurses tending to soldiers on the field, women wereinarguably removed from their expected roles as housewives and needed to findways to support themselves and their families.1 Ultimately, this sparked agreater conversation regarding women’s rights and it culminated in anation-wide feminist movementThesocietal life in America before the civil war for women was mostly centered onthe household. The home was essentially a “feminized domestic sphere”.2 In other words, women wereresponsible for roles that were prescribed jobs that were supposed to be donesolely by females.
Women were defined by the domestic duties they performed. “True women” were those who devoted their lives inproviding a nurturing home to their families, tended to cleaning and cooking, andtook care of everything during the pre-civil war era.3Women had hardly imagined breaking free of their roles since they believed thatit was their duty to be domestic and serve their husbands.
This traditional ideologylargely stemmed from the widespread belief in Christianity. It was believedthat the “Lord had set expectations of women to be submissive and honor theirlife through servitude.” 4While this lifestyle was normalized all over the world, the impending warswiftly changed the dynamic in the US. As men left their regular lifestyles tojoin the war, the structure of the workforce at home changed significantly.Women were forced to step out of their homes to take on the deserted jobs tofinancially support their families and support the war efforts. This opened upthe opportunity for women to then get instantly involved with the war. TheCivil War gave women responsibilities and opportunities that were normallypursued by men only. Women were left with businesses to manage and plantationsto tend to.
Women started to leave their domestic lifestyle and entered theworkforce. The effect of the new roles of women caused gender norms in societyto be challenged and questioned. Many women also started to enter the publicsphere and this changed the acceptable place of women in society.Asthe Civil War broke out women were needed to take the place of men outside theworkplace. This caused the stereotypical ideologyof women being helpless and suffering during the Civil War to end and thereality of women wanting to help the war effort to be revealed. 5 This inevitably pushed other women to learnvocational skills that could be useful to society during this time. Thetraditional role of Women of different social classes in America drasticallychanged in some shape as the civil war began. Wealthy white women became the headof the house, by managing the farms, plantations, and businesses that theirhusbands would typically tend to.
Women were eager to be able to have new opportunitiesoutside of the house and this lead to a liberation of women as they contributedthe society for the first tie through the civil war. Even though women showedtheir support and contribution in a different manner, they nonetheless caredand served for the country and were true patriots like the men.Women also contributed to the war effort through fundraising equipmentand collected necessary resources for the troops. Some of the elite families hada strong educational background became nurses, which was huge step forward forequal rights in the academic field. This inevitably pushed other women to learnvocational skills that could be useful to society during this time. Theprofession of nursing dates back to the civil war when women stepped up andvolunteered for these jobs. “The causalities during the Civil Warover 600,000 with approximately 10 million cases of illnesses, significantlyhigher than any other American war.
“6 The war increased the needfor patient care and women volunteered, this lead to the growth of nursing. Thelack of medical care available for the troops and the increase in soldiersdying of infections inspired women to step up and serve on the war. Women inNorth Carolina formed the Soldier’s Aid Society and the Ladies HospitalAssociation sent many medical supplies including food, clothing, and to hospitalsin the battlefield.7 IN North Carolina women gathered together and created makeshift equipment out ofthe little resources they had. These women such as Clara Barton were, who eventuallyfounded the American Red Cross, smart and resourceful during the war and savedlives of troops. Nurses were also “expected toserve as a mother figure to the soldiers. They wrote letters for illiterate orhandicapped patients and counseled them and their families. They had to alwaysbe feminine and cheerful.
“8Anotherdevelopment for women in the Civil War included sanitation organizations. Theseorganizations known as The United StatesSanitary Commission were created in order to create “a preventive hygienic and sanitaryservice for the benefit of the army”.9This commission was successful since itraised money for the war effort, provided supplies, and worked to educate themilitary and government issues related to health and sanitation. A lot of thiscredit, if not all belongs to women such as Dorothea Dix who were “havens in a heartless world”.
10 Thesanitation commission coordinated volunteer medical help for the Union duringthe war and one lasting result it had was the establishment of the country’sfirst official nursing schools in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.The commission allowed for soldiers to betreated medically and nurse them back to health. After the civil war came to aclose, the woman commissioners helped soldiers return to their lives ascivilians and continued to provide assistance and aid to the disabled soldiers. By the end of the civil war, “the SanitaryCommission had provided almost $15 million in supplies–the vast majority ofwhich had been collected by women–to the Union Army.”11.The rate of casualties also decreased considerably in the civil war and thiswas all due to the efforts of the Sanitation Commission.Other roles women took up that impacted society included spying andespionage. Women in both the Union and Confederacy helped their respectivesides by gaining military information through flirting with other male soldiersat social events.
An example of this is when a Confederate spy, “Emeline Pigottfrom North Carolina, gathered military information by entertaining Unionsoldiers at dinner parties in her home.”12Pigott provided this information to the Confederate army by leaving secret messagesand crossing enemy lines. Women like Pigott were able to escape theconsequences of spying due to lingering stereotypes of women being non-threateningand passive. In addition to military logistics, women spies alsosmuggled supplies such as weapons, ammunition, and medication.
In an effort tobe discreet, women took the risk of strapping these stolen items to theirclothes and bodies, which a task that was largely unexpected and unprecedented.One spy, Elizabeth Van Lew, even sent coded messages to Union officers, “oftenusing invisible ink and hiding the dispatches in hollowed out eggs and vegetables.”13Women played a huge role in transferring information to help both union andconfederate soldiers strategically fight. Van Lew is one of several women who contributedto the civil war and helped further their sides. The new roles and professionsthat women took up significantly altered their roles in society and changes itfor the future to come. Throughout the time women were involved in espionage,they were able to gain military ranks and the term soldiers .
could be appliedto these women.14 Womenwere gaining recognition for their contributions and efforts which was aturning point in the traditional norms of women in society.Evenafter the civil war came to an end, the traditional roles of women remainedvery different. This was a turning point in American history since womenstarted to gain recognition and valor for their risks and immense contribution inhelping the war effort. Women’s empowerment movements started to come to a riseincluding the women’s suffrage movement. After the war ended some women we returned to their domestic traditionalroles in the home, however, many women became complacent and were no longerwilling to return to a life in the household and domesticity. Consequently, thewomen’s suffrage movement sparked and the fight for women’s suffrage was gainingmomentum.
Overall, the lives of women changed and the gender norms werechallenged, and this was all due to the civil war.1 “Women’s Roles during the Civil War,1861-1865.” In DISCovering U.S.
History. Detroit: Gale, 1997. Accessed December 28, 2017.2 History.com Staff. “Women in the Civil War.
“History.com. 2010. Accessed December 28, 2017.
3 History.com Staff.”Women in the Civil War.” History.com. 2010. Accessed December 28,20174 “TheCult of Domesticity: What it means to be a “True Woman”.” The AmericanPeople to 1865.
Accessed January 13, 2018.5 “TheChanging Role of Southern Women During the Civil War.” The American Peopleto 1865. Accessed January 14, 2018.6 “Civil War Nurses.” Civil War Nurses | NCpedia.
Accessed January 14, 2018.7 “Civil War Nurses.” Civil War Nurses | NCpedia.Accessed January 14, 2018.8 “The Civil War and Nursing.
” Nursing News, Stories& Articles. April 28, 2011. Accessed January 14, 20189 History.comStaff. “Women in the Civil War.
” History.com. 2010. Accessed December28, 201710 History.comStaff. “Women in the Civil War.” History.
com. 2010. Accessed December28, 201711 Lewis,Jone Johnson. “Sanitary Commission (USSC).” ThoughtCo. AccessedDecember 28, 201712 Brooks, Rebecca B.
“The Roles of Women in the Civil War.” Civil War Saga. June 22, 2017.Accessed December 28, 201713 History.com Staff.”Secret Agents in Hoop Skirts: Women Spies of the Civil War.”History.
com. September 03, 2013. Accessed December 28, 2017.
14 Brooks, Rebecca B.”The Roles of Women in the Civil War.” Civil War Saga. June 22, 2017.Accessed December 28, 2017