From Self-Sacrifice to Self-Preservation: The Changing Roles of Southern Women During America’s Civil War
Document Type Article
The Civil War is an event in American history that will continue to be discussed and analyzed for years to come. The conflict affected the entire population of the country, regardless of social class or race. One of the most important changes in southern society was the change in the roles and ideologies of southern women as a result of the war. Before the war, the South was a patriarchal society with prominent gender roles and ideologies on how the perfect Southerner should behave. Ideally, the Cavalier Man, filled with honor and chivalry, was meant to be in complete control. The counterpart was the Cavalier Lady, whose job was to remain charming and sophisticated.
However, when war broke out white Southern men enlisted in great numbers. Thus, women had to take on their responsibilities and duties. At the beginning, many women were ardent patriots of the Confederacy. They volunteered as nurses and organized events and associations to support the war effort. Some women even acted as spies on behalf of the Confederate army. However, as war raged on, the patriotism slowly faded. War fatigue took over, and women encouraged their husbands to desert the army and even participated in acts that undermined the Confederacy. Because of the Civil War, many aspects of the Southern lifestyle were altered. Women were now active in the public sphere and used this power to get what they wanted. The once subservient Southern belle transformed into a patriot of the Confederate Cause. After months of facing harsh realities, however, that patriot developed into an activist whose actions helped bring about the decline of the Confederacy.