by Judith Giesberg
The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Pp. xiv, 324.
Illus., notes, biblio., index. $26.95 paper. ISBN: 0807872636
Working Class Women & the Union War Effort
While there have been a number of books on women and the Civil War, these have primarily looked at the role of middle and upper class white women, who raised money, served as nurses, and helped sustain morale, which pushed the limits of ascribed gender roles rather gently. In this workProf. Giesberg (Villanova) looks at the experience of working class women, black as well as white, during the war.
These women experienced the war in quite different ways than their wealthier sisters. Working class women were often forced by the demands of war to take on “men’s work,” such as running farms (albeit that they already did farm work part-time) or working in factories, and, in the case of black women, fighting racial barriers. Even with such efforts, working class women generally found it difficult to make ends meet with their menfolk at war (equal pay for equal work had not yet been invented), and also found their state and federal authorities less than helpful in providing relief for soldiers’ families, even refusing to assist poor families in burying their war dead or securing survivor’s benefits.
In her conclusions, Giesberg notes that these women have largely been invisible in the historical record, and are little commemorated. A volume in the UNC series “Civil War America,” Army at Home will prove interesting reading for any student of the Civil War.