The place of women in wartime societies has long been an overlooked area of historical inquiry. The lack of women on the battlefield has often been mistaken as an absence from all avenues of the war effort.
However, in 1861, when the American Civil War broke out between the North and the South, women became deeply involved in the conflict. In this new activity from History Study Center, learn more about the contributions of women during the Civil War.
American women had already proved their steel during the War of Independence of 1775-83. As nurses in the Civil War, women ran hospitals to tend the ill and wounded, with some women, such as Mary Walker Edwards, even rising to the rank of physician.
Other women served the war cause as “vivandieres,” who supplied food and other vital provisions to the soldiers, or as “sutlers,” who sold goods to military units on the battlefield. There was also work for women as military scouts, spies, and soldiers, although women who fought had to hide their identities in order to do so.
In a nation divided by war, these American women served their causes in ways that should not be ignored.
Students should make a list of the diverse roles women played in supporting the war effort.
2. As a class, discuss the role of women in the Civil War. Does the diversity of roles that women played in the war effort surprise students? Why or why not? What was it about the time period that allowed/necessitated women moving beyond their traditional gender roles?
3. Have students been taught about the contributions of women in their history classes, or do such classes still focus primarily on male accomplishment? How would a female-oriented history of the Civil War be different from a male-oriented history?