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Women and the American Civil War (December 2015): Home

by Elizabeth A. Novara


This bibliographic essay originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Choice (volume 53 | number 4).


The American Civil War is a topic that continues to capture the imagination of the general reader, the undergraduate student, and the historian.  The war’s recent sesquicentennial celebration has demonstrated that scholarship in this area of history continues to flourish and receive attention.  While mainstream bookstores still continue to stock mainly military histories and biographies of the war, since the 1980s there has been ever-expanding academic research on the social and cultural aspects of the war, including women’s roles and perspectives.  Scholarship on women’s roles and gendered interpretations of the sectional conflict are thriving, even if these studies are not well represented outside academic libraries.  These works are also becoming more overwhelming for academic librarians to sift through in order to build consequential collections on this topic.

Several themes have emerged in the last twenty-five years in scholarship on women’s Civil War history.  The development of social and cultural history and the growing field of women’s history certainly influenced scholars in the 1980s and 1990s.  More recent trends include a broader focus away from individual women’s lives, and incorporating gender studies.  Definitions of masculinity and femininity are now an important part of the historical field of inquiry.  In addition, conceptions of the geography of war are increasingly complex as new scholarship constantly redefines the home front and the battlefront.  New studies do not look just at women’s deeds, but at women’s experiences—how was women’s status affected by the war?  How did women strive toward citizenship?  How did race, class, and region complicate women’s lives?  Whatever the current line of inquiry, scholars agree that attention to women and gender should be a central theme in Civil War history and scholarship, and should not be overlooked in the Civil War narrative.

This bibliographic essay looks at roughly the last twenty-five years of scholarship on the topic of women and the US Civil War without endeavoring to be all-inclusive.  For example, works that are purely biographical in nature are not included.  Edited document collections of diaries or letters are included to some extent, but serve primarily as excellent examples of these types of scholarship.  There are many more candidates for inclusion, but limitations on essay length preclude exhaustive citations.  Finally, this essay focuses primarily on the war years, 1861–65, meaning that most works included here focus on the Civil War itself.  Women’s roles and perspectives during the antebellum period, Reconstruction, reunion, and reconciliation, and those related to Civil War memory, are not discussed in detail, although there is always overlap into these areas because they naturally influence each other.  However, some works were included if a substantial chapter or section within a work provided important information about the war years, or if there were no other relevant monographs on a particular topic.  Limiting the essay by this periodization unfortunately leaves out scholarship that focuses on how the war later influenced women’s experiences into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

A few other bibliographies on women and the US Civil War have been produced, including Theresa McDevitt’s book-length Women and the American Civil War: An Annotated Bibliography, published in 2003.  McDevitt’s work strove to be exhaustive in nature.  Essay-length bibliographic explorations include Thavolia Glymph’s “The Civil War Era” in A Companion to American Women’s History; Lyde Cullen Sizer’s “Mapping the Spaces of Women’s Civil War History” in the Journal of the Civil War Era; and Judith Giesberg’s “Women” in A Companion to the U.S. Civil War.  Other bibliographies or recommended readings can be found as part of several of the works mentioned in this essay.

The organization of this essay reflects some of the major categories of past and current scholarly inquiry; however, many works may fall into more than one category but are mentioned only once for the sake of brevity.

Elizabeth A. Novara is a historical manuscripts curator for the University of Maryland, College Park, Libraries.

Works Cited