Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War

Overview

When Confederate men marched off to battle, southern women struggled with the new responsibilities of directing farms and plantations, providing for families, and supervising increasingly restive slaves. Drew Faust offers a compelling picture of the more than half-million women who belonged to the slaveholding families of the Confederacy during this period of acute crisis, when every part of these women's lives became vexed and uncertain.
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Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War

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Overview

When Confederate men marched off to battle, southern women struggled with the new responsibilities of directing farms and plantations, providing for families, and supervising increasingly restive slaves. Drew Faust offers a compelling picture of the more than half-million women who belonged to the slaveholding families of the Confederacy during this period of acute crisis, when every part of these women's lives became vexed and uncertain.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Faust (The Creation of Confederate Nationalism) makes a major contribution to both Civil War historiography and women's studies in this outstanding analysis of the impact of secession, invasion and conquest on Southern white women. Antebellum images based on helplessness and dependence were challenged as women assumed an increasing range of social and economic responsibilities. Their successes were, however, at best mixed, involving high levels of improvisation. The failure of Southern men to sustain their patriarchal pretensions on the battlefield also broke the prewar gender contract of dependence in return for protection. Women of the South after 1865 confronted both their doubt about what they could accomplish by themselves and their desire to avoid reliance on men. The women's rights movement in the South thus grew from necessity and disappointment-a sharp contrast to the ebullient optimism of its Northern counterpart. Faust's provocative analysis of a complex subject merits a place in all collections of U.S. history. Photos. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
YA-Privileged, upper-class white women of the Confederacy faced overwhelming changes in their lives as men went off to war and they struggled with new and demanding responsibilities. Having to run farms and manage often insubordinate slaves, learn to perform menial domestic chores, cope with loneliness and shortages of food and clothing, and provide support to the army thrust them into situations that their gender had never coped with in antebellum southern life. Those women found themselves needing to learn new skills, often contrary to their social upbringing. Some retreated into themselves, but many, moved not only by patriotism but also by a reluctant new freedom, crossed social barriers to become teachers, nurses, shopkeepers, and writers. Forced by necessity, they reinvented themselves. Through their own words from diaries, journals, and letters, and from newspapers, Faust carefully analyses the issues of gender and class as well as attitudes regarding race that permeated these women's lives. A thought-provoking study that will be an excellent supplement for women's studies and American history classes.-Mary T. Gerrity, Queen Anne School Library, Upper Marlboro, MD
Kirkus Reviews
A wonderfully researched chronicle of a largely unexamined social elite that enriches the fields of Civil War and women's studies.

Herself a descendant of generations of southern "ladies," Civil War historian Faust (Univ. of Penn.) sought to write a book of scholarly rigor that also could have been read by her deceased mother and grandmothers. She succeeds by eschewing an overarching—and possibly limiting—political or psychological theory and relying on the voices of Confederate women themselves. Through diaries of more than 500 Lizzies, Nellies, and Lucys (along with a broad sampling of Confederate popular culture), Faust details how well-bred Confederate women aimed to maintain their antebellum social standing while redefining their place as public members of society and watching a war reshape the culture around them. They attempted to become useful Confederate patriots without leaving the "feminine sphere," as one woman put it in a letter to the New Orleans Daily Picayune. They learned degrading physical tasks like weaving cloth and dyemaking, but only against their faraway husbands' will and their own misgivings. They entered the work force as hospital matrons, treasury clerks, and teachers, but they were advised to seek not "equality" but "equivalence" by an author taking on the question of nature vs. nurture in gender differences. Even their art, which blossomed during the war, radiated equivocation. A bestselling Confederate novel, Augusta Jane Evans's Macaria; or, the Altars of Sacrifice (1864) eventually upheld the tradition of "Womanly Usefulness" but did so through a heroine whose embrace of both the domestic and public spheres skirted dangerously close to androgyny. These women, Faust claims, confronted the home front while upholding an "ambiguous tradition of seemingly contradictory strength and frailty."

Though repetitive at times in its inclusiveness, this is a fine, caring social history that also offers surprising insights into the development of the southern American woman's consciousness.

From the Publisher
"Faust has the sensibility that I most admire in a historian: the capacity to enter imaginatively into a world very different from our own and to write about it with understanding and sympathy even when we find that world morally abhorrent."
— Gordon S. Wood, Wall Street Journal

Among the finest of recent histories of American women.

Bertram Wyatt-Brown, New York Review of Books

A dramatically revealing study of how the war altered these women's identities.

Josephine Humphreys, New York Times Book Review

Faust makes a major contribution to both Civil War historiography and women's studies in this outstanding analysis.

Publishers Weekly

It is one of the most admirable recent volumes of American social history.

Booklist

A wonderfully researched chronicle of a largely unexamined social elite that enriches the fields of Civil War and women's studies.

Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807855737
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 10/25/2004
  • Series: The Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 326
  • Sales rank: 189,681
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Drew Gilpin Faust is president of Harvard University. Her books includeSouthern Stories: Slaveholders in Peace and War and The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South.
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Table of Contents

Introduction : all the relations of life 3
Ch. 1 What shall we do? : women confront the crisis 9
Ch. 2 A world of femininity : changed households and changing lives 30
Ch. 3 Enemies in our households : Confederate women and slavery 53
Ch. 4 We must go to work, too 80
Ch. 5 We little knew : husbands and wives 114
Ch. 6 To be an old maid : single women, courtship, and desire 139
Ch. 7 An imaginary life : reading and writing 153
Ch. 8 Though thou slay us : women and religion 179
Ch. 9 To relieve my bottled wrath : Confederate women and Yankee men 196
Ch. 10 If I were once released : the garb of gender 220
Ch. 11 Sick and tired of this horrid war : patriotism, sacrifice, and self-interest 234
Epilogue : we shall never ... be the same 248
Afterword : the burden of southern history reconsidered 255
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2008

    Confederate Women

    While I did not get the most pleasure out of reading this book, I did find that it taught be a lot about Confederate Women during the Civil War. Gathering information from 500 Confederate Women, Faust goes into great detail about how they were involved politically, socially, and economically in the Civil War. This book acknowledges that women did contribute to the war effort in more ways than most think. While it took me awhile to read by the end I was happy that I read it because I really did learn a lot about how the women were involved. If I were a professor I would use this book because it would really allow students to grasp that the women were critical to the survival of the economic structure of the South.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2008

    Groundbreaking

    Mothers of Invention is a must for anyone who has an intrest in the South during the Civil War. Faust has done an amazing job analyzing the life of 500 elite southern women and has made an insightful contribution to women's studies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2008

    Civil War Women

    Faust did a good job of describing women during the Civil War. She also provided many examples of how women supported the cause of the war in the beginning and why they resented the war as the war progressed. If I were a professor, I would use this book for the reason above. Also because it shows that women were not passive during the war. I learn quite a lot from this book about southern women and some aspects of the civil war itself.

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