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Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War" by Drew Gilpin Faust. Specifically, it will explain how the instabilities of the Civil War South forced southern white women to alter their behavior. What was the key issue they faced as white men were forced to go to the front? In what way did altered gender roles lead to altered clothing styles? What does clothing tell us about civil society? Southern women faced many difficulties during the Civil War. They had to take on new roles that did not fit their upbringing, and they had to make significant changes to the way they lived and worked. It was a difficult and demanding time for southern women, and some of them discovered themselves, while others discovered they were closer to their black slaves than they ever would have believed.
The South, being at a distinct disadvantage for most of the Civil War, sent as many able-bodied men as they possibly could to the fighting front. Women had to step in and run the farms and plantations in their men's absence, and this included managing an increasingly volatile slave population. Historian Faust notes, "Women called to manage increasingly restive and even rebellious slaves were in a significant sense garrisoning a second front in the South's war against Yankee domination" (Faust 54). Obviously, this was a new and different role for most of these women, and many of the men left behind in the South did not appreciate or value it. In fact, many of them fought against female management, as Faust notes, "These issues went beyond questions of gender; they represented deep-seated worries about sex" (Faust 55). The key issue facing most of these women forced into unfamiliar roles was fear. They felt incapable of managing a large group of slaves, and some of them even feared for their safety and their lives. Many women felt they could not trust their slaves, and could not manage them as effectively as their husbands or the overseers could. Some slave actions seemed to bear this out, as the author recounts cases of women smothered in their beds, and other ghastly murders (Faust 57-58). Women were afraid of their slaves, and it seems many of their slaves could sense this, and took advantage of their fears, which were mostly sexual in nature.
Of course, not all white southern women feared their slaves. Some saw them as protectors and comrades against the hated Yankees. Historian Faust continues, "There were in fact slaves who buried the master's silver to hide it from the enemy; there were slaves, like one Catherine Edmondston described, who drew knives to defend mistresses against Yankee troops" (Faust 61). These women had to rely on their slaves for a variety of things, including their very survival, and for many, it was quite an uneasy alliance. One of the biggest problems women faced in their domination of their slaves was the use of violence. In their male-centered society, the men often dominated the slaves with fear of violence and punishment. Faust continues, "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). In southern society, women were raised to be weak and dependent on men for their support. When the men marched off to war, the women had to take on roles that were unfamiliar and frightening, and most of them were very unprepared for these roles because of their upbringing. One woman wrote, "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). Interestingly, she described herself just as most southerners felt about their slaves, and she may have ultimately discovered she and her slaves had more in common than she ever could have imagined. Raised to be dependent, southern women were not meant to run a farm, they were meant to be "inferior beings" to their husbands, and so, they fit into another niche in society that was almost totally dependent on strong and authoritarian males. As more and more blacks left the farms…[continue]
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