While it may be widely believed the Confederacy was a unified whole, every man, woman and child believing in the cause and willing to die for it, the reality was far from that. At the beginning of the war there may have been a general feeling of patriotism and perhaps even nationalism, not every Southerner was willing to put their own life on the line for something many believed to be a planter class cause. This divide, seen on a large scale in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, began to grow as the years went on, spreading to a good portion of the yeoman and some of the elite women.
For all women, no matter the class, the war brought little but hardship and heart ache. While they may have been willing to send their husbands and sons off to fight at the beginning, as the war progressed and the cruelties became more apparent, this naiveté soon wore off. Husbands, who were responsible for much of the work in the fields, were absent; the fields often went unplowed and were soon overrun with weeds. Bills piled up, creditors began visiting more frequently, and soon many yeoman women were evicted from their farms. “Especelly [sic] for the sake of suffering women and children,” wrote one woman to her governor, “do try and stop this cruel war,” (Edwards, 85). This summed up many women’s feelings.
(This is part 2 of 3, go here for part 1)
The slaveholding women were not the only ones in the Southern states who had strict standards of womanhood. For the yeoman white woman similar standards still held, although with a greater degree of mobility. Religion played an important role in this area, with congregations being exhorted to “watch over one anothers actions” (Edwards, 43). Those women who did not conform to the standard were brought before the people for church discipline. Women were charged with adultery, desertion, gossiping or quarreling with their husbands, but that did not always hold the same stigma it did for the planter class. Many yeoman women were so respected in their communities that even the charge of adultery was soon forgotten. The system, however, was much the same as in the upper classes, whereby the women “affirmed the basic principle of women’s subordination to men,” by appealing to the men for the respect they had earned (Edwards, 45).
Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore by Laura F. Edwards presents a view of Southern life for women of varying ages, social classes and races. She sheds light on the incredible hardships, repression, racism and outright aggression that women faced during some of the most troubling times in our country’s history. Edwards looks at how planter class women paid a high price for the privilege their station enjoyed. She examines life, both legal and economic, for yeoman white and free black women and how that influenced their views on the war and the Confederacy. She also shows how the war changed the lives of women of all classes, free and slave.