by Roberta McCutcheon

Introduction

The growth of manufacturing in the decades prior to the Civil War transformed the country. The nation experienced the appearance of cities, manufacturing, and a commitment to wage labor at the same time as the expansion of slavery, a national economy connected by modern transportation, and a society and culture that strained to adjust. While most participants in the expanding economy continued to work in agriculture as farmers, planters, and slaves, more and more joined the ranks of labor in the new industries. Many prospered as a result of the changes and rose into an emerging middle class. The Civil War disrupted this but did not stop the shift to an industrial economy from going forward. Rather than halting or even slowing the industrial revolution, the war fueled the change.

Women both adjusted and responded to the changes of the nineteenth century. Some reacted by protecting or altering their private lives while others turned to public action; some women wanted to seize the opportunities to revolutionize their own lives while others wanted to hang on to established customs. The lives of women in the nineteenth century in many ways reflected the transformations of the nineteenth century but in other ways demonstrated the resilience of traditional assumptions held the United States.

Using the classroom as a historical laboratory, students can use primary and secondary sources to research the history of women in the nineteenth century. The students will be engaged in the craft of historical interpretation; they will be able to identify the assumptions about women before the Civil War and then be able to discover the effects of the war on the history of women in the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Objectives

  • Students will be able to create a model to be used to evaluate the validity of historical evidence.
  • Students will examine primary documents and factual references to analyze the lives of women in the nineteenth century.
  • Students will be able to identify the private and public roles of women in the nineteenth century.
  • Students will be engaged in historical research and critical analysis. They will be able to consider the historical context of the private and public roles of women in the nineteenth century.
  • Students will be able to examine how the Civil War affected the lives of women in the United States.

Student Activity One: Create the Historical Context

Examining women’s lives before the Civil War: Have the class research the lives of women in the first half of the nineteenth century. Divide the class into five groups. Assign each group one of the following topics:

  1. The role of women in the expanding market economy, free and enslaved
  2. The public and private spheres in the early nineteenth century
  3. The cult of domesticity and true womanhood
  4. Women in the public sphere
  5. Demands for change and the Declaration of Sentiments

Have each group share its research on the assigned topic with the class. Use the information gathered to identify nineteenth-century assumptions about women as well as the challenges to those assumptions. The following sites will be helpful (this is not a complete list).

Helpful Websites

Student Activity Two: Panel Discussion—Women’s Participation in the Civil War

Research women’s roles in the Civil War: Have the class research the roles of women in the Civil War. Divide the class into three groups.

  1. Women on the home front
  2. Women in support roles
  3. Women who fought in the war

Have each group share its research on the assigned topic with the class. Use the information gathered to identify women’s roles in the Civil War as well as the challenges to those assumptions. 

Helpful Websites

Panel Discussion: Select three panelists (one from each group) to analyze the class research about women in the Civil War. They should consider the effects of the war on the lives of women and the conventional assumptions about women during the war. The panelists will prepare an opening speech presenting their conclusions on one of the following:

  1. Women on the home front
  2. Women in support roles
  3. Women who fought in the war

The panelists will also respond to questions from the rest of the class about the women’s lives during the Civil War and they were changed by the war.

The moderator will:

  1. Introduce the issue for the panel discussion.
  2. Direct questions from the audience (all non-panelist members of the class) to the panelists after the presentations.

Student Activity Three: Class Discussion—Identifying Change Over Time

The class will need to understand the lives of women after the war, in the last half of the nineteenth century. Divide the class into five groups. Assign each group one of the following topics:

  1. Upper-class women
  2. Working-class women
  3. Middle-class women
  4. Woman activists
  5. Black women

Use your textbook and the following sites (these sites will be helpful but this is not a complete list).

Helpful Websites

Have each group share its research on the assigned topic with the class.

Class Discussion: Analyze the information compiled through the research in order to understand women’s lives after the war. Identify changes regarding both lives and assumptions about the following: upper-class women, working-class women, middle-class women, woman activists and black women.

Extension Activity: Essay

To what extent did the Civil War change the nation’s assumptions about women during the nineteenth century?

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Discussion

i need to know the name of a specific woman that participated in the civil war.
i would like to know what was life like to the women's that were part of the war.


Diana,
There are a number of women to research on women and the Civil War.You can start with someone such as Belle Starr,Mary Chestnutt,Frances Clayton,Loreta Velazquez,Clara Barton,Mary Tippee, and Sarah Hughes.You might also look at Drew Gilpin Faust,"Mothers of Invention " for a look at slaveholders wives during the Civil War


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