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Why Women Study the Civil War

The Smithsonian Associates Civil War E-Mail Newsletter, Volume 5, Number 4

For the most part, the events of the Civil War center on the decisions and actions of men. So why are so many contemporary women becoming reenactors, writers and readers of Civil War texts, or otherwise enthusiasts of the American Civil War? Guest writer Meg Galante-DeAngelis shares her thoughts about what brings history, the Civil War, and women together.

History has always been an integral part of the everyday lives of women. Who knows better when you lost your first tooth or said your first word? Who knows the names of family members, long since passed, who smile or peer expressionlessly from that dimming photograph? This is not coincidental, but rather an essential part of the passage of the oral history of common life. It is critical for us to remember this shared past. It is this weaving of the passage of the common life that binds us to those before us and spins a thin thread toward those who will come after us.

Women's interest in the Civil War is about making sense of the shared experience. Women's interests vary as much as the women themselves. But they do not stop with an interest in the etiquette, clothing and material culture of the times. Women today, just as their foremothers, are interested in every aspect of the Civil War. Women were involved in every venue of the War - they fought on the battlefields, nursed the wounded, buried the dead, provided food and clothing, raised money, made flags, and took over the many jobs that the men left behind. They prayed and sang and worried. They cared for the children and the veterans. They supported the war effort with their words and deeds. They made the ordinary extraordinary by devoting their all to the war effort. And we, today are interested in it all - in the lives of the men and women, from the battlefield to the homefront.

It is to this shared experience that The Society for Women and the Civil War is dedicated. Our members are a diverse community of independent and affiliated researchers, scholars and students of all disciplines, genealogists, reenactors, authors, archivists, museum professionals, librarians, artists, performers, storytellers, teachers of all age students, historians and other chroniclers of history. The SWCW is a membership organization dedicated to recognizing women's efforts, both those who lived through the war, and those who, today, research, reenact or otherwise continue to honor them.