Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War

Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War

Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War

Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War

Synopsis

No American needs to be told that the Civil War brought the United States to a critical juncture in its history. The war changed forever the face of the nation, the nature of American politics, the status of African-Americans, and the daily lives of millions of people. Yet few of us understand how the war transformed gender roles and attitudes toward sexuality among American citizens. Divided Housesis the first book to address this sorely neglected topic, showing how the themes of gender, class, race, and sexuality interacted to forge the beginnings of a new society.
In this unique volume, historians Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber bring together a wide spectrum of critical viewpoints--all written by eminent scholars--to show how gender became a prism through which the political tensions of antebellum America were filtered and focused. For example,Divided Housesdemonstrates that the abolitionist movement was strongly allied with nineteenth-century feminism, and shows how the ensuing debates over sectionalism and, eventually, secession, were often couched in terms of gender. Northerners and Southerners alike frequently ridiculed each other as "effeminate": slaveowners were characterized by Yankees as idle and useless aristocrats, enfeebled by their "peculiar institution"; northerners were belittled as money-grubbers who lacked the masculine courage of their southern counterparts.
Through the course of the book, many fascinating subjects are explored, such as the new "manly" responsibilities both black and white men had thrust upon them as soldiers; the effect of the war on Southern women's daily actions on the homefront; the essential part Northern women played as nurses and spies; the war's impact on marriage and divorce; women's roles in the guerilla fighting; even the wartime dialogue on interracial sex. There is also a rare look at how gender affected the experience of freedom for African-American children, a discussion of how Harriet Beecher Stowe attempted to distract both her readers and herself from the ravages of war through the writing of romantic fiction, and a consideration of the changing relations between black men and a white society which, during the war, at last forced to confront their manhood. In addition, an incisive introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson helps place these various subjects in an overall historical context.
Nowhere else are such topics considered in a single, accessible volume. Divided Housessheds new light on the entire Civil War experience--from its causes to its legacy--and shows how gender shaped both the actions and attitudes of those who participated in this watershed event in the history of America.

Excerpt

In their novel The Gilded Age (1873), which labeled an era of American history, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner wrote that the Civil War had "uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people, transformed the social life of half the country, and wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations." A dozen years later, Albion W. Tourgée, novelist and crusader for black civil rights, expressed vexation with the flood of books and articles beginning to appear that celebrated the military pageantry and heroism of the Civil War but said little about its issues. Though a twice-wounded combat veteran himself, Tourgée declared in 1885 that what was most important about the war was "not the courage, the suffering, the blood, but only the causes that underlay the struggle and the results that followed from it."

Over the past century, many historians have responded to Twain's and Tourgée's challenges. We have whole libraries of books on the causes and consequences of the Civil War, on the institutions that were uprooted, and on the politics that were changed. All serious students of the conflict recognize that it resolved two fundamental, festering questions that had plagued the country since its beginning. Would this fragile experiment in . . .

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