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A Woman's Place

Since the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was not passed until 1920, obviously at the time of the Civil War, women had no roll in government or elections. Expectations for a girl were limited to managing a house and raising children. With no birth control, the number of children might be ten or more if medical ignorance did not result in her earlier death in childbirth. If she was not wealthy, she probably made all the clothes for her children. We may picture her at her sewing machine, but no. The first pedal sewing machines did not become widely available to families until after the Civil War. She patiently stitched every seam with her little needle.

The old saying, “Man may work from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done,” describes her life.

The man of the family did the outside work if they lived on a farm which the majority of families did. But what happened when this man went off to war?

In her letter of June 5, 1863 to her husband who was part of the army near Vicksburg, Elizabeth McGee McCartney provided an account of her usual morning activities: “well I did not git up until half past six this morning but I have done a good days work after all the first thing was to milk the cow for my husband was not at home the next was to put the milk a way then next was to dress my little babies the next was to comb my head and dress my selfe but do not think I was going all this time without my clothes for I was not but had on my dirty clothes”

In other letters quoted in Hardtack and Heartbreak she described her struggles to put in a garden and to preserve her growing tomatoes and beans from a marauding cow. A woman’s life in the nineteenth century was never easy, but with the man of the family gone to war, her work doubled. And what if he was killed or disabled by wounds?

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