The woman’s role and the treatment of women during the Civil War played a direct role in the development of the women’s suffrage movement. As the expectations of a woman grew and developed during the civil war this caused women’s desire for independence and representation to grow.
Women in the Civil War
Frances Clayton, aka Frances Clalin, who is one of many women who disguised themselves as men to serve during the civil war.
During the Civil War time period, women were taught to be housewives and in wealthy homes were treated primarily a decoration, a figure meant to sit prettily and serve her husband readily. In Letters on Female Character, written by Virginia Clay, a southern housewife, she says,
“… my duty required me to submit to his will. That his reveries might be important to other people, if not to me. O, how my heart beat with pleasure, when I heard him applauded vehemently for a speech, made on the very subject that occupied his mind so long. If I had interrupted him with my selfishness, now thought I, he never would be able to concentrate his attention so as to excel.”
As context, this selfishness she is referring to is addressed earlier in the book and is having a conversation with him during his work day. This shows that during this time period, women were not expected to be intellectual or purposeful, but were supposed to act in a way that solely supported their husbands.
While this was the expectation, many women rebelled and found more purposeful occupations for themselves and their ample capability.
Although there are only a few women who are well known for their service during the Civil War, it is estimated that anywhere from 400-750 women posed as men to serve in the civil war. While some women worked in positions that allowed them to serve as women, for example in factories or as nurses, there were a number of women that served in the front lines, bravely acting as men; this shows active defiance to the way things were “meant to be,” according to social norms.
Defiance in the Women’s Suffrage Movement
Poster from women’s suffrage movement. This shows the attitude that was taken which treated the movement as an ad campaign of sorts used to promote the cause of the woman gaining her ability to vote.
As women grew more and more determined to gain their independence and a voice and representation, the woman’s role shifted greatly. They become more vocal in asking for what they wanted, which specifically was the right to vote. The Women’s Suffrage Movement began in 1848 when a group of men and women led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott gathered in Seneca Falls, New York to present a Declaration of Sentiments. This document called for women to join the group of people that were represented in by the Declaration of Independence, specifically the portion that states,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
On January 17th, 1920, the 19th Amendment was added to the American Consitution which gave anyone the right to vote, regardless of their sex.
Map showing woman’s right to vote in different states.
When comparing this animated map of the civil war, and the map shown above, you can see that where there was a concentration of Civil War battles, there are also states that allowed women to vote after the 19th Amendment was created, which was a direct product of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement.
As seen in this Google NGram, equality was not reached in this time period, but progress has been made in leaps and bounds, empowering women.
The woman’s role in the Civil War as a supporter of her husband, with no real voice or power of her own, caused women to defy what was expected of them and step into roles that were thought to only be able to be filled by men. This step helped women find their power and their voice and eventually lead to the Women’s Suffrage movement by helping women discover that their potential was not related to their sex, but rather their ability to work hard and chase what they wanted.
In the words of Harriet Beacher Stowe, an active leader in the Woman’s Movement,
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
The women who so bravely fought in the movement to secure women’s right to vote worked hard against their adversaries and through determination were able to meet their goal.