Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil Warby Drew Gilpin Faust
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.
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 overarchingand possibly limitingpolitical 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.
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.
It is one of the most admirable recent volumes of American social history.
A wonderfully researched chronicle of a largely unexamined social elite that enriches the fields of Civil War and women's studies.
- The University of North Carolina Press
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What People are saying about this
Drew Gilpin Faust brings alive the voices and feelings of southern slaveholding women as they coped with the escalating changesand frequent disasterswith 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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