In American society during the 19th Century, men and women occupied different realms. Women dealt with private affairs, while men were in charge of public matters. When the Civil War broke out, the rigid distinction between the sexes became flexible. Women changed because the war allowed them to expand their roles to become active in the realm that previously isolated them. From housewives, women became doctors, nurses, and spies. Some even did the extreme; they assumed a masculine appearance to join the army. The concealment of their gender proved to be the downside of the changes in women during the war.
They may have had relevant contributions in the war, but it was left unrecognized because of its concealed nature. The Civil War was a defining moment in American history. It was the event which determined the fate of the nation as the American community was divided into two opposing sides. It was also a time of significant social change. The realm of war previously belonged to the men; it was the male soldiers who fought in the battlefields. However, the Civil War altered the situation. The status of women dramatically changed as they became active participants in the war effort.
Indeed, the Civil War opened many opportunities for women and allowed them to be active members of society. This research paper aims to discuss how women changed during the American Civil War, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the said changes. In the 19th Century America, men dominated society and women were regarded as inferior to them. Women lived under the authority of the opposite sex, either that of the father, husband or another relative (Massey, 1994). They were confined in the domestic sphere; their main concerns were their home and family.
Women had no voice in the political arena because only the men had dealt with public affairs. Not only was it objectionable for women to fulfill men’s jobs, it was also disagreeable for them to wear men’s clothes (Eggleston, 2003). When the Civil War began, the social lines were blurred. Women suddenly were presented the chance to go beyond their realm and participate in the world of men. They were given roles and jobs that were not accessible to them before. Both the Union and the Confederacy allowed women to take part in the war effort.
For the first time, the government allowed women to become doctors and nurses (Eggleston, 2003). Women also served as messengers and spies. Meanwhile, there are also those women whose contributions were domestic in nature; these include cooking, as well as mending and sewing uniforms for the soldiers (Eggleston, 2003; Silber, 2005). These activities may have been the same as those women were tasked to do in the past; however, there was a significant change. Before, women only did those jobs due to the necessity in the household. During the war, the women did those jobs due to the necessity of the nation.
Their domestic activities were no longer performed for private purposes; they had become part of the public affairs. However, women were not merely passive participants. They were also directly involved in the war effort as soldiers. The battlefield was reserved for males, but the females eventually found themselves fighting the same war. Women became soldiers by concealing their real identities (Eggleston, 2003). There were many reasons why women opted to disguise themselves as male soldiers. There were those who fought in the war to either escape from their betrothal or to be with their loved ones.
Some saw the war as an adventure and craved its excitement. There were others who saw fighting for its financial benefits and the opportunity to better provide for their families. Meanwhile, there were women who took part in the Civil War for more noble reasons; they went to war because they were compelled by duty and patriotism (Eggleston, 2003). Women had to resort to extreme measures to appear like male soldiers. There were women who were immediately discharged because the way they acted revealed their real identities (Eggleston, 2003).
Meanwhile, there were women who dramatically changed their actions and behavior before enlistment to successfully disguise themselves. They modified the color of their complexion and learned how to chew tobacco. They used vests with pads to conceal their breasts; the pads also made them seem more bulky and masculine (Eggleston, 2003). Having women disguised as men in war had its share of difficulties. The problems arose from the different toilet habits as well as other personal routines (Eggleston, 2003). Nonetheless, the recruitment of young men in the army proved to be advantageous for the female soldiers.
The army consisted mostly of boys, who were still shy and reserved around each other. Most of them were hesitant to relieve themselves in the company of other soldiers; to attend their toilet needs, they had to hide in the woods or others areas which offered privacy. The meek nature of young men was beneficial for the female soldiers because it allowed them to seek privacy without appearing unusual. In addition, the young men of the army have not yet started shaving, so it did not appear unusual for the females if they did not shave (Eggleston, 2003).
It is remarkable that women have finally reached the public realm during the Civil War, even if they had to pretend as men to do so. However, that kind of participation had disadvantages. Women who had successfully kept their real identities hidden as part of the army suffered all the difficulties which came with war (Eggleston, 2003). Female soldiers were held captive by their opponents, brought to prison camps and killed in the battlefields. There were those who perished and buried without their real identities discovered.
Because women soldiers were not supposed to be fighting in the war, their participation in the war was previously not acknowledged. There were even those who denied the direct involvement of women as soldiers (Blanton, n. d. ). The non-recognition of women fighters in the Civil War prevented the discovery of the total number of female soldiers who offered their services. The numbers available on record are merely estimates. This situation posited a real problem, as it undermined and ignored the contributions of women in the battlefield.
During the American Civil War, women changed because they went beyond the roles that were initialed assigned to them. The war effort presented them to enter the public realm of men and participate in it. Women had indeed changed during that time, as they progressed from housewives to participants in war. Women even came in disguise to become soldiers. While it is a great thing that women became active members of the community, some of their contributions were not recognized or accurately recorded because of their secret identities. Nonetheless, this does not diminish that fact that women were a significant part of the American Civil War.
References Blanton, D. (n. d. ). Women soldiers and nurses of the American civil war. American Civil War Website. Retrieved March 13, 2009, from http://americancivilwar. com/women/index. html Eggleston, L. G. (2003). Women in the Civil War: Extraordinary Stories of Soldiers, Spies, Nurses, Doctors, Crusaders and Others. North Carolina: McFarland. Massey, M. E. (1994). Women in the Civil War. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. Siber, N. (2005). Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.