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Women During the Civil War

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Women During the Civil War

" 'I want something to do...' 'Write a book,' Qouth the author of my being. 'Don't know enough, sir. First live, then write.' 'Try teaching again,' suggested my mother. 'No thank you, ma'am, ten years of that is enough.' 'Take a husband like my Darby, and fulfill your mission,' said sister Joan. 'Can't afford expensive luxuries, Mrs. Coobiddy.' 'Go nurse the soldiers,' said my young brother, Tom. 'I will!' (Harper 14)." This is a dialog of Louisa May Alcott with her relatives. Miss Alcott, like many other African American women, helped serve in the Civil War. During the Civil War, Miss Alcott held a variety of jobs. Mainly working as a writer, she held positions as a nurse, teacher, and volunteered in Soldiers' Aid Societies (Harper 14). These were just a sample of jobs that African American women occupied during the Civil War.

African American women, free or enslaved, found the Civil War to be a chance for them to break out of bondage. It was a point in their lives where they had a chance to find freedom. Although they knew they wouldn't be able to directly influence this chance, they did have an opportunity to make an impact. While their husbands, fathers, or male relatives were out fighting the war, African American women had to find a way to support their families. African American women worked as nurses, domestic servants, laundresses, cooks, seamstresses, and operated boarding houses. They also managed to continue the education of young people by being teachers, volunteered at churches, and created literary and moral improvement societies. The most common job of African American women during the Civil War was nursing. African American women were usually the backbone of hospital staffs. Almost half of the staffs were black because they were either slaves who were made to do the work or they were free black women trying to earn an income. Most African American women supplied aid to black troops only, but there were few that were able to work in military hospitals wherever permitted. They fulfilled the regular duties of a nurse; they took care of the wounded and sick, went out to the battlefields to rescue the wounded, and even carried some dead off of the field. Another job that African American women held was working as spies and scouts, giving directions and information, and feeding and sheltering soldiers. The women of the South usually assisted white and black soldiers in the Union (Harper 4).

For the African American women that couldn't get jobs in the war, they spent their time supporting and setting up organizations to aid the black troops. The United States Colored Infantry, National Freedmen's Relief Association, and Ladies' Union Association were just a few of the organizations set up to provide the necessary care for the black troops. Most of the organizations were set up in fear that the black troops would not receive the same privileges and care that the white troops had. These organizations would send the black troops clothing, blankets, and food. The women would also help the families of the troops. They had shelter for the families to stay in and they would help write the soldiers letters. One of the most important aspects of these organizations was during the war they rallied other African Americans for their fight against slavery. The African American women were some of the most prominent activist at the time. They would send out letters, make pamphlets, and speak to those who weren't literate. Their jobs were to inform their fellow community, and by doing this they saw it as serving a purpose in the war (Forbes 93-95). Although, they were not directly tied to the fighting and saving lives, they were fighting for the cause. They were fighting for the cause that they believed every black troop was fighting for. The African American women were helping to fight for their freedom.

Women's jobs in the war were very limited on or near the battlefield. They were never allowed to be involved in direct combat. Women that wanted to feel as if they served a purpose in the war and wanted to be more dangerous and daring got jobs as spies, couriers, guides, scouts, saboteurs, or smugglers. Most of these spies were Confederate women who were involved in stealing information from the North. Because of the connotation that went along with being a spy, women's reputations were often ruined.



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