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Did Southern women live with their parents during the Civil War?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: December 13, 2012 
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Was it common for Southern women to go live with their parents during the Civil War when their husbands went off to war?

—Stephanie

? ? ?

Dear Stephanie,

It is impossible to generalize about Southern women during the Civil War, but what else could they do but try to get by? Those in plantations ran them with remaining family members and the slaves at their disposal. Those in cities may have moved in with their families, or they simply carried on at the households with whatever savings they had, and often took whatever respectable work they could find. Those in the country took care of the necessary farm work themselves, with or without the help of the nearest relatives. Some went further, volunteering their homes or services toward caring for the wounded soldiers who came back to convalesce. One, Sally Louisa Tomkins, established a private hospital in Richmond that was so much more effective than previous hospices that President Jefferson Davis gave her a captain's commission in the Confederate Army–the only such commission granted a woman on either side–so that other officers would respect her orders as she expanded her medical facilities throughout the capital area and beyond. 

For all its soapy fantasies, Gone With the Wind is founded on the fact that behind the crinolines and hoop skirts, Southern women are not to be underestimated or dismissed. The same might be said of Cold Mountain.

Sincerely,

 

Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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