Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War

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Overview

Daughters of the Union casts a spotlight on some of the most overlooked and least understood participants in the American Civil War: the women of the North. Unlike their Confederate counterparts, who were often caught in the midst of the conflict, most Northern women remained far from the dangers of battle. Nonetheless, they enlisted in the Union cause on their home ground, and the experience transformed their lives.

Nina Silber traces the emergence of a new sense of self and citizenship among the women left behind by Union soldiers. She offers a complex account, bolstered by women's own words from diaries and letters, of the changes in activity and attitude wrought by the war. Women became wage-earners, participants in partisan politics, and active contributors to the war effort. But even as their political and civic identities expanded, they were expected to subordinate themselves to male-dominated government and military bureaucracies.

Silber's arresting tale fills an important gap in women's history. She shows the women of the North--many for the first time--discovering their patriotism as well as their ability to confront new economic and political challenges, even as they encountered the obstacles of wartime rule. The Civil War required many women to act with greater independence in running their households and in expressing their political views. It brought women more firmly into the civic sphere and ultimately gave them new public roles, which would prove crucial starting points for the late-nineteenth-century feminist struggle for social and political equality.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of Southern History

Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War is an innovative analysis that is sure to inspire a reconsideration of northern women's patriotism and its long-term results. Silber's analytical strengths and narrative style make this an engaging study for students and scholars of both women's and Civil War history.

— Victoria E. Ott

Journal of Military History

Nina Silber uses [an] ordinary woman's appeal to the president to reveal the complexities of Northern women's relationships with the nation-state during the Civil War...In this concise and accessible work, Silber argues that the Civil War brought Northern women into a more public relationship with the federal government, but that this relationship was framed in terms of their subordination to it. Using women's diaries and letters, she discusses how such changes affected Northern women and their understandings of women's civic and political responsibilities. While many historians see the Civil War as prodding Northern women to increased autonomy and feminist political action, Silber demonstrates that the war's impact on women was more complicated than that. The war brought neither complete liberation nor complete oppression for women, but a bit of both...There are important lessons here for scholars in many fields, as Silber shows how women's experiences in wartime both reveal and affect social, cultural, and political events.
— Kara Dixon Vuic

Annals of Iowa

This important book fills a significant gap in existing scholarship on women and the Civil War. By focusing on northern women in general, rather than on the minority who left home to engage in war work, it reveals that paying attention to women—even those who did not play a large role in organized war work—changes our understanding of the legacy of the Civil War itself.
— Barbara Cutter

H-Net Online

Daughters of the Union is an important tome in the canon of Civil War women's studies...Dr. Silber brings a fresh perspective to the active participation of Northern women during the war. Her thesis is well documented and should be required reading in Civil War history programs and political science curriculum, in addition to women's studies programs.
— Janet Leigh Bucklew

Eric Foner
Challenging prevalent misconceptions about women's role in the Civil War North, Nina Silber offers a fascinating account of how the war experience both opened new opportunities for female independence and tied women more and more closely to the needs of an activist state. An important addition to our understanding of the crisis of the Union.
James M. McPherson
Southern women both white and black became direct participants in a Civil War that in many cases swept over their homes and farms. While the same was not true for most Northern women, they too experienced unprecedented engagement with public affairs as they mobilized themselves to support the war. Nina Silber's excellent study of this engagement gives new and broader meaning to Lincoln's description of the Civil War as 'a People's contest'- all the people.
David W. Blight
This is the most comprehensive and deeply researched study of northern women in the Civil War to date, and one of the best books on gender in crisis in many years. Silber's achievement is profound: an engaging, nuanced, persuasive story of how the Civil War did not progressively put women on the course of liberation, but by throwing them into the civic realm in unprecedented ways, fostered a new realization of their political selves and of their social and legal subordination. Silber's Yankee women are patriots, rarely feminist heroines, always complex historical actors.
Drew Faust
We have all eagerly awaited this indispensable book. Nina Silber's engaging and definitive study presents a new side of the Civil War experience in the North and a new dimension of the history of American women.
Gary W. Gallagher
Northern women have remained a curiously neglected group in the massive literature on the Civil War. Nina Silber's study brings them to the fore, examining the myriad ways in which the conflict impinged on their lives and underscoring the complex legacy it bequeathed in terms of their relationship to the nation-state. Admirably researched, clearly written, and forcefully argued, this splendid book will appeal to anyone interested in how women of the North fit into the grand mosaic of our defining national trial.
Journal of Southern History - Victoria E. Ott
Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War is an innovative analysis that is sure to inspire a reconsideration of northern women's patriotism and its long-term results. Silber's analytical strengths and narrative style make this an engaging study for students and scholars of both women's and Civil War history.
Journal of Military History - Kara Dixon Vuic
Nina Silber uses [an] ordinary woman's appeal to the president to reveal the complexities of Northern women's relationships with the nation-state during the Civil War...In this concise and accessible work, Silber argues that the Civil War brought Northern women into a more public relationship with the federal government, but that this relationship was framed in terms of their subordination to it. Using women's diaries and letters, she discusses how such changes affected Northern women and their understandings of women's civic and political responsibilities. While many historians see the Civil War as prodding Northern women to increased autonomy and feminist political action, Silber demonstrates that the war's impact on women was more complicated than that. The war brought neither complete liberation nor complete oppression for women, but a bit of both...There are important lessons here for scholars in many fields, as Silber shows how women's experiences in wartime both reveal and affect social, cultural, and political events.
Annals of Iowa - Barbara Cutter
This important book fills a significant gap in existing scholarship on women and the Civil War. By focusing on northern women in general, rather than on the minority who left home to engage in war work, it reveals that paying attention to women--even those who did not play a large role in organized war work--changes our understanding of the legacy of the Civil War itself.
H-Net Online - Janet Leigh Bucklew
Daughters of the Union is an important tome in the canon of Civil War women's studies...Dr. Silber brings a fresh perspective to the active participation of Northern women during the war. Her thesis is well documented and should be required reading in Civil War history programs and political science curriculum, in addition to women's studies programs.
Publishers Weekly
Although Dorothea Dix, Clara Barton and Anna Dickinson have cameo roles, Civil War historian Silber reaches far deeper than such star turns to address "the diminishing place of Union women in American memory," the corollary that their commitment was "lackluster" and the domestic fallout of their involvement-"the expansion of the nation-state into the lives of ordinary Americans citizens." Relying heavily on letters and diaries, Silber's scholarly account is solidly informative for the serious historian and quite accessible for general history buffs and students. As primary breadwinners go off to war, women serve as fund-raisers, post mistresses, suppliers, nurses, government workers and teachers. That's a familiar enough story, but with a greater public role, women find "their personal, intimate relationships subjected to intense... scrutiny, not only from neighbors and kin but also from state and federal officials." Those who work as nurses are "required to be plain looking women." The result, Silber argues, was a change in the way marriage's regulatory function worked in society in ways that continue to reverberate through homes and jobs. In this provocative, challenging work, Silber writes ordinary women onto the page and reshapes the boundaries of Civil War history. Her attention to the presence of Northern black women is particularly noteworthy. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674060487
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/31/2011
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 525,810
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Nina Silber is Professor of History at Boston University.
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Table of Contents

Prologue: Summoned to War, Charged to Patriotism

1. Loyalties in Conflict

2. The Economic Battlefront

3. Domesticity under Siege

4. From Patriots to Partisans, and Back Again

5. Aiding the Cause, Serving the State

6. Saving the Sick, Healing the Nation

7. Wartime Emancipation

8. American Women and the Enduring Power of the State

Epilogue: An Ambiguous Legacy

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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