The role of women in the camp followers group was therefore crucial for the armies, regardless of their affiliation. At the same time though, there were a lot of criticism brought to the group of "camp followers." One example in this sense was the reluctance to the idea of women in the camp followers group. More precisely, "many equated 'camp follower' with 'whore' or even if they were not quite so derogatory, they saw such a being as part of the lower orders that did not quite seem representative of or equal to the ideal of American citizen"
. Therefore, the distinction between women and the rest of the society was seen even at that level, despite the constant aid provided by women as members of the "camp followers" group.
This perspective offers the general framework for the evolution of women's status in terms of the challenges they faced and the obstacles they were forced to surpass. Generally speaking, women had to endure the negative treatment of men based on the historical consideration of the fragility of the sex. This is the argument often invoked when justifying the limits imposed to women who were prevented from engaging in male dominated activities such as those undergone in mines or hard labor. Even so, this attitude continuously reached new heights and the denial of the possibility to take part in the social and political life was soon to be justified through the use of this argument, especially taking into account the fact that women, as a result of such a mentality, were limited to the activities surrounding the household. This in turn negatively affected the opportunities for any eventual improvement of skills, which in the end resulted in the inability of most women to tackle politics or other socially related activities.
Indeed the time of the revolution and the war was strongly influenced by discriminatory attitudes. This is why there were different attempts to reduce the gap between people. Still, the discrimination towards women was relatively distinct. As poof of this fact was the Congress's decision to adopt a series of legislative initiatives that still failed to resolve the issue in its entirety; relevant to the point is "when Congress passed the 14th amendment in 1866, its provision extended political privileges to white and black men but not to women."
There is another aspect of that marked the situation of women, an element that made the participation of women to the relief activities even more important for the overall evolution of the female condition in the society. Despite the fact that neither Northern nor Southern women were privileged to have an easier time it was the black women that were faced with an extra pressure, given the circumstances of their social existence. Throughout time, black women had to face a double injustice, being discriminated for being a woman in her black community, and for being black in the company of their white female groups
The distinction between white and colored women manifested even during the war years, but, unlike the previous decades when white women benefited from the support of their husbands, they had to cooperate in helping their soldiers. Thus, the distinction between the white and black women was rapidly surpassed and, out of necessity, many white females came to appreciate and honor the qualities of their fellow black women
Despite its large number of casualties, the Revolution and the Civil war were important opportunities for women to affirm their abilities and their importance in the society. The conflict came as a relative unprepared event and therefore the victims and the duration of the war made it essential for additional care, but, at the same time, for a reorientation of the balance of activities conducted by women in the society.
Firstly, it must be pointed out the fact that, no matter the soldiers they supported, women had the intrinsic respect for the value of human life and therefore decided to intervene not so much in support of one of the armies, but rather orient their actions towards helping the needs and those affected by the war L.P. Brockett, Mary C. Vaughan, and Zeigler, in the introductory analysis to "McCurdy Woman's Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience," presented the same idea. They referred to the women present in the book as having "inevitably lost the benefits of privacy, by the largeness and length of their public services, and their names and history are to a certain extent the property of the country."
Therefore, there is a general opinion that indeed, women managed to play an essential role in the evolution of the war, through different means and making use of the resources at their disposal.
The actions women took can be seen from a multitude of perspectives. For instance, L.P. Brockett considered their initiatives as an expression of patriotism, while others saw them as both a duty towards the society and one to the entire community. Taking these aspects into consideration, women followed different courses of action.
From the onset of the war, women were engaged in different types of organizations and committees that enabled them to support the war efforts of their husbands. In this respect, they continued certain activities that had been already underway from the start of the century as the symbol of women's emancipation. Thus, giving the fact that "from the 1790s on both black and white women had been organizing voluntary associations, at first religious and charitable, but some with more overtly political intent by the antebellum period"
, the organizational experience was already developed and rather efficient, an element that contributes to the success of their war initiatives.
Such initiatives materialized in the form of war committees such as The New York Central Association of Relief or Weldon Pennsylvania. The latter, for instance, registered an important contribution, as "these women's groups sent tremendous quantities of supplies to the front. Organized in 1862, the, society contributed $17, 000 in goods in one year," aside from the quantity of clothes, shoes, and additional material necessary to those on the front.
This practical approach to the activities women took during the war was the embodiment of a general trend, which responded to the basic needs of any country in confronted with civil war. As the conflict raised momentum, both Northern and Southern women "began to congregate in homes, hotels, and churches to preserve fruits (…) and organize charity fairs and other fund raising events to collect money with which to buy supplies."
This was an additional example of their involvement in raising financial resources for supporting the soldiers.
Every armed conflict is faced, eventually, with a crisis at the level of victim care. In some cases even, the situation can surpass the expectations and the gravity of the result in terms of casualties. This was the case with the Civil War, whose evolution, plagued by the controversy of questionable decisions from the commanding generals, was prolonged outside the time limits first taken into consideration. This is why there was an increasing for medical support and assistance. Thus, "from the very beginning of the civil war, women were drawn into the war effort by requests for huge amounts of foodstuffs, bandages, and other sanitary."
Moreover, refreshment salons in the north and wayside homes in the south were set in place to aid passing military personnel.
The hard conditions of the front determined some women to get involved in the improvement of nutrition in the camps as part of their participation to the war. Thus, women such as Annie Turner Wittenmyer set in motion a campaign meant to promote the serving of proper, healthier food. In addition, she became interested in the human aspect of the war, and especially concerning children who, losing their parents in the fighting would remain orphans. Her initiative proved rather successful as by "1865 persuaded the federal government to give several new buildings and many hospitals supplies to the newly organized Iowa Orphans Home Association in Davenport, Iowa"
The philanthropic nature of wives and sisters during the war also materialized in their actions to help nurse and heal the wounded
. However, this was not an easy task, as at the time, there were few nursing schools and many applicants for a place on the front were rejected due to a lack of experience or the youth of the applicant.
However, because of the great need for medical assistance, many of them acquired the experience on the front; still, in 1861 though Dr. Elisabeth Blackwell had established a training program for nurses in response to the crisis created during the war. Yet another result of the hard conditions women saw on the front,
Clara Barton, one of the leading figures of the war aid efforts "began to crusade for the establishment of the American Red Cross in the 1870's (because) The Civil War had taught her about corruption, lack…