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

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

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by Drew Gilpin Faust
     
 

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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

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.

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
Roland Green
Faust's exceedingly readable volume may be considered a fine nonfiction companion to "Gone with the" "Wind" and Mary Chesnut's famous diary. It focuses on upper-class southern women, who before the Civil War had made a workable bargain with patriarchy: protection in return for limited spheres of free activity and competence. The war threw this bargain not merely into the melting pot but into the furnace, and such women were simultaneously faced with a broken contract, which they resented, and a series of challenges that many of them met as interestingly as Margaret Mitchell's heroine. Subsequently, the same women became the backbone of the effort to reimpose the prewar hierarchy of race and class. In addition to its rare readability, Faust's effort is full of insights and even wit. Altogether, it is one of the most admirable recent volumes of American social history.
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

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807863329
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
11/09/2000
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
326
Sales rank:
498,388
File size:
10 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
A dramatically revealing study of how the war altered these women's identities. . . . I read with unanticipated fascination, spellbound by the gathered voices, their passion and stamina, their gifts of introspection and observation. . . . [Faust looks] directly at the past, with a daughter's hard, steady gaze, and with a daughter's generous heart.—Josephine Humphreys, The New York Times Book Review

Drew Gilpin Faust brings alive the voices and feelings of southern slaveholding women as they coped with the escalating changes—and frequent disasters—with which the Civil War transformed their lives. . . . An engaging narrative that demonstrates how fully this devastating war was, in fact, a story of and by women as well as men.—Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, author of Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South

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, The Wall Street Journal

A wonderfully researched chronicle of a largely unexamined social elite that enriches the fields of Civil War and women's studies. . . . This is a fine, caring social history that also offers surprising insights into the development of the southern American woman's consciousness.—Kirkus Reviews

[A] splendid study of how Southern women defined and redefined themselves.—Christian Science Monitor

A captivating, richly researched, and elegantly written analysis of gender, race, and class at the crossroads of war and region by one of the finest historians of our generation. Drew Faust adroitly dissects the ambiguity and irresolution in the inner lives, thoughts, and experiences of elite white women who struggled to maintain status and privilege even as the necessities of Civil War transformed southern society.—Darlene Clark Hine, editor of The Encyclopedia of Black Women's History

This is a seminal revisionist work and a major contribution to the growing literature on gender and the Civil War.—Southwestern Historical Quarterly

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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