"My pen burns to write it:" Elite Northern and Southern Women's Words in the American Revolution and the Civil War Open Access

Dobbs, Elizabeth C. (2015)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/8g84mm53g?locale=en


Early America's patriarchy placed white women at the top of the social hierarchy below white men. Examination of these elite women's writings from the American Revolution and the Civil War show these privileged women struggled with the same set of challenges facing all women during wartime's upheaval. Interrogation of these elite white women's letters and diaries detail they wrote from their domestically-assigned roles as wives, mothers, and caretakers of the sick, as well as from fear produced by war. However, I argue that, while the daily life experiences during wartime of elite white Northern women in the American Revolution and elite white Southern women in the Civil War were in unmistakable parallel to each other, they differed significantly from wartime suffering experienced by women of color, free and enslaved, and by white women in lower economic and social ranks, despite an incorrect perception by these privileged women of an equal shared suffering by all women during war. In truth, suffering differed by relative degrees according to class, race, status, and financial means. However, I further argue that, despite the mirrored experiences of the elite white women, there are discrepancies among these two privileged groups of women and their relationship to each war that produced either a proactive or defensive advocacy. In formulating this assertion with evidence gleaned from their letters and diaries, I address how these middle and upper class white women saw themselves in relation to each other and to other women. I also deconstruct critical aspects of their lives, like gender and class, to reconstruct their visions of themselves. Also, I use the elite white women's writings to determine how race in relation to Native Americans and African Americans and the nation also informs the ways these women viewed themselves. My methodology will employ examination and close reading of a series of primary sources--letters, diaries, and slave narratives, and I will place my analysis in the context of secondary literature.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1: Wartime Letters of Sickness and Fear 10

Northern Women's Letters in the Time of Revolution 13

Southern Women's Civil War Letters and Diaries 17

Documenting Fear North and South 22

Sleepless from Worry 29

Elite Southern Women's Fears 31

A Different Type of Loyalist 33

Conclusion 38

Chapter 2: "Why must the innocent suffer with the guilty?:" Elite White Women in the American Revolution and the Civil War 40

Revelations of Privilege 48

In Relation to African Americans 49

In Relation to Native Americans 51

Thinking Politically 54

Holding Hard to Slavery 56

Conclusion 60

Final Thoughts 62

Bibliography 69

Primary Sources 69

Secondary Sources 75

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