Patriotic Toil: Northern Women and the American Civil War

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During the Civil War, the United States Sanitary Commission attempted to replace female charity networks and traditions of voluntarism with a centralized organization that would ensure women's support for the war effort served an elite, liberal vision of nationhood. Coming after years of debate over women's place in the democracy and status as citizens, soldier relief work offered women an occasion to demonstrate their patriotism and their rights to inclusion in the body politic. Exploring the economic and ideological conflicts that surrounded women's unpaid labors on behalf of the Union army, Jeanie Attie reveals the impact of the Civil War on the gender structure of nineteenth-century America. She illuminates how the war became a testing ground for the gendering of political rights and the ideological separation of men's and women's domains of work and influence. Attie draws on letters by hundreds of women in which they reflect on their political awakenings at the war's outbreak and their increasing skepticism of national policies as the conflict dragged on. Her book integrates the Civil War into the history of American gender relations and the development of feminism, providing a nuanced analysis of the relationship among gender construction, class development, and state formation in nineteenth-century America.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An important book that makes more concrete and palpable the response of Northern women to the Civil War."—Civil War History

"Attie's work is one of the most complete histories of the Sanitary Commission to date. . . This book will be of particular interest to the readers of New York history because its subjects as well as their leaders were all based in New York City. In addition, her excellent analysis of the Metropolitan Fair in New York City in April 1864 provides a vivid snapshot of the city's tense social situation the last year of the war. Taken as a whole, Patriotic Toil has a great deal to offer its readers, both in terms of information and interpretation."—New York History

"A groundbreaking study of Northern women's work during the Civil War, Patriotic Toil significantly revises our understanding of the meanings of Civil War home front activism. . . . It significantly rewrites the social, cultural, and political history of the Northern home front. . . . A lively, thought-provoking, and innovative work, Patriotic Toil opens up important new territory in Civil War and gender studies."—Alice Fads, Journal of American History

"This book makes a singular contribution to the growing body of historical literature on the US Civil War and its effect on gender relations. . . Attie's perceptive examination of gender conflicts in the commission offers considerable insight into the precarious state of gender relations, and its relation to the expansion of federal power, in the nineteenth-century U.S."—Nina Silver, American Historical Review

"The strength of the book is the forthright discussion of the complex, collective, and various roles northern women assumed during the Civil War."—Barbara Worthy, Florida Historical Quarterly

"This book admirably illustrates the tenuous position of the nineteenth-century ideology of separate spheres and the way gender systems and political ideologies were balanced during the upheaval of the Civil War. . . . The book's real strength is the exploration of women's response to the demands of the UCC. . . and the gender-based contradictions and compromises that the UCC male leadership and the women volunteers negotiated through the organization's work."—Gwen Gooney Erickson, North Carolina Historical Review

"This fascinating study deserves to be widely read—and not only by practitioners of women's history. . . Impressively researched and exemplary in its organization, Patriotic Toil is a major study."—Martin Crawford, American Studies

"Attie's book is at once a straightforward institutional history and a theoretically ambitious study of gender and women's citizenship."—Mary Saracen Zboray, The Historian

"There is much of value in Patriotic Toil, which offers new insights into women's contributions to Union victory. Attie shows us that although its nature and meaning were contested terrain, women's support of the Union proved, in the end, an important factor in the war's outcome."—Brett Barker, Wisconsin Magazine of History

"Attie's in-depth look at Civil War home front activism unravels many of the complicated socioeconomic issues that resurfaced in the movement for women's suffrage and the Herculean contribution of 'Rose the Riveter' in generations to come."—Long Island University Magazine

"Attie's thought-provoking and analytical study is . . . a welcome addition to the far too scanty literature examining the contributions of women to the conflict and the wartime work of nationwide philanthropic organizations. . . While demonstrating the importance of their contributions, Ate also shows that women acted intelligently to maintain control over the products of their domestic work."—Theresa R. McDevitt, Annals of Iowa

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801422249
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Lexile: 1630L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.21 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue 1
1 "We All Have Views Now": Tapping Female Patriotism 19
2 Imposing "A Masculine Discipline": A Nationalist Elite and the U.S. Sanitary Commission 50
3 "For the 'Boys in Blue'": Organizing the Homefront 87
4 "A Swindling Concern": Homefront Charges of Corruption 122
5 "Bumping into Each Other": Managers, Canvassers, and Competition 147
6 "Half-Savage Individualism": The USSC Confronts the Female Public 170
7 "Fair Mania": Branch Autonomy and Local Civic Pride 198
8 "It Is a People's War": The USSC Retreats 220
9 "Becoming History": Appraising Female Warwork 248
Conclusion: "The Lessons of War" 268
Bibliography 277
Index 281
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