Women Of The American Civil War Era

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Women of the American Civil War Era


Women in the 1860's and even today were not recognized for their abilities outside the home. Even though the men were off to war, women had to fight at home to work. They were considered too frail to work in business. Ironically women had been working beside their husbands for generations as they went pioneering out west. They worked on their farms and in family store. Historians agree that World War II changed life for American women in the 20th century. The Civil War had just as great an impact on the lives of American women in the 19th century. Staying at home, women could help the war effort by running businesses, making clothes, and taking care of their farms, but some women wanted to do more. Some women went to become nurses and helped wounded soldiers, some became spies, and still others posed as men and enlisted in armies, almost all women did their best to help during the civil war.


The Civil War was important as a watershed event in American history, especially for women. The history books detail the war as told from the men's point of view with battles, and generals. Most history books include a little information on famous women such as Clara Barton, who is served as a volunteer nurse during the Civil War and is credited with starting the American Red Cross. Yet little else is included in those history books about the other heroic women (Young, pp 12-190).

Over 3,000 women served as nurses between 1861 and 1865. Since nursing schools were not established until 1873 they had no formal training. Many had no work experience outside the home. As nurses, women worked in hospitals taking care of wounded soldiers. The novelist Louisa May Alcott described the soldiers as "riddled with shot and shell" and "torn and shattered". Two famous nurses were Mary Edwards Walker, who earned a Congressional Medal Honor for her medical service, and Clara Barton (Schultz, pp 34-282). Clara Barton was known as the "Angel of the Battlefield," she used her home as a warehouse to store medical supplies, and with the help of her friends, she distributed them to troops. When the government began to send adequate supplies, she began an organization to locate missing soldiers. In 1869, she founded the American Red Cross, after traveling abroad. Dorthea Dix, who originally worked towards improving the care of mentally ill people, was recruited as the superintendent of the Union army nurses. She made hospitals, oversaw sewing societies, helped get medical supplies, and recruited and trained women to be nurses. "Her requirements in a nurse were strict - not too young, not too pretty, and of strict moral character (Pyron, pp 34-190).

She preferred farm women accustomed to the sight of blood. Nurses wore only plain brown or black dresses with no hoop skirts, jewelry, or accessories and no curls." Many women became nurses to care for loved ones who had been injured in ...
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