Throughout the course of history, women have repeatedly demonstrated their strength, power, and resilience. The Civil War changed the role women played in American society. For the first time, women were allowed to participate in the war effort, not only by joining traditional sewing groups, but by volunteering as nurses and hygienists. Prior to the war, nurses were primarily men. But this changed with the advent of such notable women as Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke, Clara Barton, who later founded the American Red Cross, Louisa May Alcott, who went on to write “Little Women,” and Florence Nightingale, to name a few. The new PBS television series, “Mercy Street,” accurately portrays what it was like to be a nurse in a Civil War hospital. With all the trials presented to them, including the lack of medical technology, these women withstood danger on the battlefield and criticism from their peers to persevere.
Many cases of women fighting on the battlefields have emerged over the years. Some of these brave souls disguised themselves so they could fight alongside their husbands, brothers, or friends, while others retained their hoopskirts and acted as spies for both the Union and the Confederacy. Belle Boyd, who supposedly crossed enemy lines to smuggle Union strategy plans to General Stonewall Jackson, traveled around the country after the war to tell her fascinating stories. Many other brave women smuggled supplies, including desperately needed drugs, across enemy lines to support the troops and the cause for which they believed in. A few also smuggled slaves and POW’s.
Women who were left at home while their menfolk went off to fight were faced with the everyday obligation of tending to their farms, businesses, and families. These women, although not as famous, deserve as much recognition for surviving insurmountable challenges and achieving amazing accomplishments. According to Clara Barton, the four-year time period of the Civil War advanced the social position of women by fifty years. Prior to the war, American women were expected to behave according to strict Victorian standards, but afterward, women’s roles in America changed dramatically.