by Judith Giesberg
Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Pp. xiv, 324.
Illus., notes., biblio., index. $26.95 paper. ISBN: 0807872636
Working class women in the Civil War North
There have been a number of books on women and the Civil War. But for the most part they have concentrated on 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.
Working class women, whether white or black, experienced the war in quite different ways than their wealthier white sisters. They were often forced by the demands of war to take on “men’s work,” such as running farms (albeit that many already did farm work part-time) or working in factories, some even in heavy industry.
Moreover, despite hard work, working class women generally found it difficult to make ends meet with their menfolk at war, pay for women being pitifully low in an era in which equal pay for equal work was not even a slogan. They also had to cope with societal prejudices against women who worked, and, in the case of black women, they also usually had to fight racial barriers, which included segregation. Such women 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, matters about which Army at Home makes a good start.
A volume in the University of North Carolina Press series “Civil War America,” Army at Home will prove interesting reading for any student of the Civil War.