Her involvement finally earned her the Medal of Honor, and enduring gratitude for her contribution as a physician to the war effort.
Probably one of the most famous women who worked during the Civil War was Clara Harlowe Barton. Barton was a nurse during the war, who at first simply stockpiled medical supplies and food that she knew the soldiers would need, and later took her supplies into the field where they were most needed. One historian wrote of her right after the war ended, "Her devotion to her work has been remarkable, and her organizing abilities are unsurpassed among her own sex and equaled by very few among the other" (Brockett and Bellows 132). Later, her work in the field and her stockpiling of supplies in warehouses became known as the "Sanitary Commission," which eventually evolved into the worldwide humanitarian organization known as the Red Cross. Clara Barton worked tirelessly to bring food, medical supplies, and solace to the injured and dying soldiers on both sides of the war, and she is one of the most well-known women who worked during the Civil War.
Life was difficult for women during the war. With their men off fighting, they had to take on unfamiliar and uncomfortable roles, including master of slaves when men had always been the masters before. Historian Drew Gilpin Faust noted, "In the prewar years, exercise of the violence fundamental to slavery was overwhelmingly the responsibility and prerogative of white men. A white woman disciplined and punished as the master's subordinate and surrogate" (Faust 63). When the men left, women had to raise the crops, run the household, and manage the slaves. It was difficult and demanding work and many women suffered both physically and mentally from the challenges. One Southern woman lamented, "I am so sick of trying to do a man's business when I am nothing but, a poor contemptible piece of multiplying human flesh tied to the house by a crying young one, looked upon as belonging to a race of inferior beings'" (Faust 65). Women struggled to take on roles they had never imagined before the war. Food was scarce, clothing was scarce, and help to run the farms and businesses was nearly non-existant. Women had to learn to cope, and had to learn to do without. Food was short on the fighting lines and even shorter in many towns and cities of the South. Women learned to minister to the sick, feed their families, and pray for peace as they struggled through each day.
Women, especially in the South, were pampered and nurtured before the war, so many of them had little experience in management and home economics. Women made great sacrifices during the war. They lost their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers, and had to change their entire way of thinking and living. It was a difficult and demanding time, but most women stepped up and completed their duties to the best of their abilities. When the war was over and their men came home, if they came home, they found that most women had managed to keep some semblance of their homes intact, and they began life anew and together.
In conclusion, women played crucial roles in the Civil War on both sides. While the men fought, the women struggled to support them however they could. They organized bandage drives, knit socks and scarves, ministered to the sick and wounded, and ran the farms and businesses until the men returned. Some of these women stood out in their attempts to help their sides' cause, and some of them created lasting organizations that still help the world today. All of the women who worked so hard during the Civil War deserve a special place in history.
Brockett, L.P., and Henry W. Bellows. Woman's Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience. Ed. Mary C. Vaughan. Philadelphia: Zeigler, McCurdy, 1867.
Dumene, Joanne E. "A Woman's Military Service as 'Albert Cashier'." The Washington Times 7 Dec. 2002: B03.
Faust, Drew Gilpin. Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Johnson, Kellie. "Mary Edwards Walker, Pauline Cushman, Emeline Pigott, and Elizabeth Van Lew." University of San Diego. 20 Nov. 2002. 20 Dec. 2004. http://www.sandiego.edu/~kelliej/women.html