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Women and the American Civil War (December 2015): Writing and Culture

by Elizabeth A. Novara

Writing and Culture

Some scholars have begun to focus on the cultural aspects of the war, including music, writing, and literature, in relation to women.  In Music and the Southern Belle: From Accomplished Lady to Confederate Composer, Candace Bailey studies Southern women’s relationship to music during the antebellum and Civil War period in detail.  She primarily focuses on elite white women’s musical education, and how the previous preference for women’s anonymity gave way during the war to a desire to publish patriotic music under their own names.

Several scholars have delved into how women’s writing influenced or was influenced by the Civil War.  Elizabeth Young’s Disarming the Nation: Women’s Writing and the American Civil War looks at some of the more familiar texts written by women, most contemporary to the war, including Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Louisa May Alcott’s Hospital Sketches, and Loreta Velázquez’s The Women in Battle.  In The Political Work of Northern Women Writers and the Civil War 1850–1872, Lyde Cullen Sizer turns her attention to nine Northern women writers who contributed to political and public discourse during the war.

Sarah E. Gardner examines texts specifically written by Southern women in Blood & Irony: Southern White Women’s Narratives of the Civil War, 1861–1937.  Gardner’s chapter on women and the war notes that Southern women demonstrate a strong sense of optimism because they did not yet perceive the defeat that was to come.  While her focus is primarily postwar, there is much to be gleaned from this text relating to women’s changing conception of war, history, and memory.  Kimberly Harrison looks at privileged white women’s unpublished writings in The Rhetoric of Rebel Women: Civil War Diaries and Confederate Persuasion and how their personal rhetoric contributed to the development of a broader Confederate culture.  Sharon Talley investigates fictional accounts of the war written by women in Southern Women Novelists and the Civil War: Trauma and Collective Memory in the American Literary Tradition since 1861.

Works Cited