The role of women in the Civil War has often been overlooked in history. Women’s roles prior to the Civil War were primarily confined to the home and family. Single women or those who were financially challenged could find work outside the home but opportunities were limited. At the outset of the war, more women were forced into working in factories or for the government, not only to support the war effort but also to provide for the family when the husband was at war. Many women who stayed home also became the nucleus for the formation of ladies aids societies, gathering supplies and raising funds for the soldiers.
Other women chose a more direct involvement in the war. These women, including daughters of the regiment, vivandières, militia members, spies, saboteurs, soldiers, nurses and doctors, proved that women could be aggressive, resourceful and patriotic. While little has been written about their contributions, in recent years more research has brought their stories to the forefront. By selecting a representative sampling of women in each category, a better understanding of women’s changing roles was revealed.
Since many of the roles of women during the Civil War were a departure from those considered traditional at the time, it is important to consider how these changing roles impacted life for women after the war ended. History shows both positive and negative impacts in areas such as careers and education, however, virtually no progress was made for the role of women in the military.