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Women & the American Civil War

A guide to primary and secondary sources on the topic of Women and the American Civil War, with a focus on women in Maryland.



Unidentified woman, Virginia Harrold collection

This is a guide to important primary and secondary sources on the topic of Women and the American Civil War with a focus on Women in Maryland.  This guide is a companion resource to the exhibition, Women on the Border: Maryland Perspectives of the American Civil War, which was on display in the Maryland Room Gallery of Hornbake Library from August 31, 2011 to July 13, 2012 and is now available as an online exhibition. The emphasis of this guide and of the exhibition is on material available in the University of Maryland Libraries' collections, but external resources are also included. Email or phone the subject specialist for more information and assistance.

Women and the American Civil War

The sesquicentennial of the American Civil War provides the opportunity for our country to take another look at the history that we all think that we know very well.  In the past, most histories of the Civil War have focused on the perspectives of the white, male participants in the conflict.  Black participants, civilians, women, and children were pushed to the border of the historical discussion. In recent years, however, historians have begun to explore the Civil War experiences of these important groups, and innovative scholarship in these areas is flourishing, though although much of this new knowledge has not yet entered the mainstream.  This guide endeavors to examine one of these groups previously pushed to the border by taking a closer look at women’s perspectives of the war, their roles, and their contributions to the war effort and to the future of the nation. 

Although women rarely participated in the war as combatants, women, as half of the population of the United States, experienced the war in multiple and various ways and made numerous contributions to the war effort.  Women were witnesses, writers, soldiers, spies, nurses, cooks, laundresses, prostitutes, supporters, organizers, and mourners, among many other roles. Their perspectives and contributions are no less valuable than those of their husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers who fought and died on the battlefield.   


Women and the Civil War in Maryland

Women who lived in Maryland had unique perspectives on the Civil War.  Maryland represented a microcosm of the national conflict. Women in Maryland witnessed troop movements, raiding, and battles more typical of a Confederate state, but they also had a shared experience with women in those states that remained in the Union.  Most women’s lives before, during, and immediately after the war continued to be centered around the household and family.  However, social changes initiated by the war offered women the opportunity to take leadership roles at home while their husbands and fathers were away. They became more involved in public arenas such as politics, publishing, and social welfare.  In addition, women’s domestic roles became more politicized during the war.  For example, sewing took on new meaning when the shirts women stitched were destined for soldiers.   

The state of Maryland claims several famous (and infamous) Civil War-era women for its own, including Clara Barton, Anna Ella Carroll, Barbara Frietchie, Rosie O’Neal Greenhow, Harriet Tubman, and Mary Surratt.  While this guide will lead researchers to sources on these well-known women, the author of this guide hopes that researchers will also consider the lives and experiences of more ordinary, everyday women living in Maryland during the Civil War through examinations of their letters, diaries, other manuscripts, rare books, and other special collections resources at the University of Maryland, College Park Libraries.