Civil War had lasting effects on the lives and role of women in post-war
society. As the opportunities for women to join the war effort arose, the norms
of a domestic society started to change. The traditional domestic roles of
women, which included motherhood and taking care of the home, transformed as
women took on the roles of spies, relief workers, and soldiers in the midst of
battle. Women took on more logistical and considerably cunning roles by discreetly
exchanging information about their enemy sides without arousing suspicion. The
motivation for women to join the battlefield had originally arose from the need
of assistance on the battlefield, but it quickly transformed into a movement
that had lasting effects on the entire society decades after. Whether it is was
through work as a spy or nurses tending to soldiers on the field, women were
inarguably removed from their expected roles as housewives and needed to find
ways to support themselves and their families.1 Ultimately, this sparked a
greater conversation regarding women’s rights and it culminated in a
nation-wide feminist movement

societal life in America before the civil war for women was mostly centered on
the household. The home was essentially a “feminized domestic sphere”.2 In other words, women were
responsible for roles that were prescribed jobs that were supposed to be done
solely by females. Women were defined by the domestic duties they performed. “True women” were those who devoted their lives in
providing a nurturing home to their families, tended to cleaning and cooking, and
took care of everything during the pre-civil war era.3
Women had hardly imagined breaking free of their roles since they believed that
it was their duty to be domestic and serve their husbands. This traditional ideology
largely stemmed from the widespread belief in Christianity. It was believed
that the “Lord had set expectations of women to be submissive and honor their
life through servitude.” 4
While this lifestyle was normalized all over the world, the impending war
swiftly changed the dynamic in the US. As men left their regular lifestyles to
join 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 to
financially support their families and support the war efforts. This opened up
the opportunity for women to then get instantly involved with the war.

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Civil War gave women responsibilities and opportunities that were normally
pursued by men only. Women were left with businesses to manage and plantations
to tend to. Women started to leave their domestic lifestyle and entered the
workforce. The effect of the new roles of women caused gender norms in society
to be challenged and questioned. Many women also started to enter the public
sphere and this changed the acceptable place of women in society.

the Civil War broke out women were needed to take the place of men outside the
workplace. This caused the stereotypical ideology
of women being helpless and suffering during the Civil War to end and the
reality of women wanting to help the war effort to be revealed. 5  This inevitably pushed other women to learn
vocational skills that could be useful to society during this time. The
traditional role of Women of different social classes in America drastically
changed in some shape as the civil war began. Wealthy white women became the head
of the house, by managing the farms, plantations, and businesses that their
husbands would typically tend to. Women were eager to be able to have new opportunities
outside of the house and this lead to a liberation of women as they contributed
the society for the first tie through the civil war. Even though women showed
their support and contribution in a different manner, they nonetheless cared
and served for the country and were true patriots like the men.

Women also contributed to the war effort through fundraising equipment
and collected necessary resources for the troops. Some of the elite families had
a strong educational background became nurses, which was huge step forward for
equal rights in the academic field. This inevitably pushed other women to learn
vocational skills that could be useful to society during this time. The
profession of nursing dates back to the civil war when women stepped up and
volunteered for these jobs. “The causalities during the Civil War
over 600,000 with approximately 10 million cases of illnesses, significantly
higher than any other American war.”6 The war increased the need
for patient care and women volunteered, this lead to the growth of nursing. The
lack of medical care available for the troops and the increase in soldiers
dying of infections inspired women to step up and serve on the war. Women in
North Carolina formed the Soldier’s Aid Society and the Ladies Hospital
Association sent many medical supplies including food, clothing, and to hospitals
in the battlefield.7 
IN North Carolina women gathered together and created makeshift equipment out of
the little resources they had. These women such as Clara Barton were, who eventually
founded the American Red Cross, smart and resourceful during the war and saved
lives of troops. Nurses were also “expected to
serve as a mother figure to the soldiers. They wrote letters for illiterate or
handicapped patients and counseled them and their families. They had to always
be feminine and cheerful.”8

development for women in the Civil War included sanitation organizations. These
organizations known as The United States
Sanitary Commission were created in order to create “a preventive hygienic and sanitary
service for the benefit of the army”.9
This commission was successful since it
raised money for the war effort, provided supplies, and worked to educate the
military and government issues related to health and sanitation. A lot of this
credit, if not all belongs to women such as Dorothea Dix who were “havens in a heartless world”.10

sanitation commission coordinated volunteer medical help for the Union during
the war and one lasting result it had was the establishment of the country’s
first official nursing schools in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The commission allowed for soldiers to be
treated medically and nurse them back to health. After the civil war came to a
close, the woman commissioners helped soldiers return to their lives as
civilians and continued to provide assistance and aid to the disabled soldiers. By the end of the civil war, “the Sanitary
Commission had provided almost $15 million in supplies–the vast majority of
which had been collected by women–to the Union Army.”11.
The rate of casualties also decreased considerably in the civil war and this
was all due to the efforts of the Sanitation Commission.

Other roles women took up that impacted society included spying and
espionage. Women in both the Union and Confederacy helped their respective
sides by gaining military information through flirting with other male soldiers
at social events. An example of this is when a Confederate spy, “Emeline Pigott
from North Carolina, gathered military information by entertaining Union
soldiers at dinner parties in her home.”12
Pigott provided this information to the Confederate army by leaving secret messages
and crossing enemy lines. Women like Pigott were able to escape the
consequences of spying due to lingering stereotypes of women being non-threatening
and passive.

In addition to military logistics, women spies also
smuggled supplies such as weapons, ammunition, and medication. In an effort to
be discreet, women took the risk of strapping these stolen items to their
clothes and bodies, which a task that was largely unexpected and unprecedented.
One spy, Elizabeth Van Lew, even sent coded messages to Union officers, “often
using invisible ink and hiding the dispatches in hollowed out eggs and vegetables.”13
Women played a huge role in transferring information to help both union and
confederate soldiers strategically fight. Van Lew is one of several women who contributed
to the civil war and helped further their sides. The new roles and professions
that women took up significantly altered their roles in society and changes it
for 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 applied
to these women.14 Women
were gaining recognition for their contributions and efforts which was a
turning point in the traditional norms of women in society.

after the civil war came to an end, the traditional roles of women remained
very different. This was a turning point in American history since women
started to gain recognition and valor for their risks and immense contribution in
helping the war effort. Women’s empowerment movements started to come to a rise
including the women’s suffrage movement. 
After the war ended some women we returned to their domestic traditional
roles in the home, however, many women became complacent and were no longer
willing to return to a life in the household and domesticity. Consequently, the
women’s suffrage movement sparked and the fight for women’s suffrage was gaining
momentum. Overall, the lives of women changed and the gender norms were
challenged, 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 Staff. “Women in the Civil War.” 2010. Accessed December 28, 2017.




3 Staff.
“Women in the Civil War.” 2010. Accessed December 28,

4 “The
Cult of Domesticity: What it means to be a “True Woman”.” The American
People to 1865. Accessed January 13, 2018.

5 “The
Changing Role of Southern Women During the Civil War.” The American People
to 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, 2018

Staff. “Women in the Civil War.” 2010. Accessed December
28, 2017

Staff. “Women in the Civil War.” 2010. Accessed December
28, 2017

11 Lewis,
Jone Johnson. “Sanitary Commission (USSC).” ThoughtCo. Accessed
December 28, 2017

12 Brooks, Rebecca B.
“The Roles of Women in the Civil War.” Civil War Saga. June 22, 2017.
Accessed December 28, 2017

13 Staff.
“Secret Agents in Hoop Skirts: Women Spies of the Civil War.” 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


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