The Civil War Period
As noted at the conclusion of the previous chapter, American women began to play a bigger part in partisan politics in the early 1840s followed by somewhat of a decline in the late 1840s. Nevertheless, if a decline occurred it was rather short-lived, for the 1850s would see a heavier degree of participation than before, at least in the northern states. There, interest in reform and in the expanding sectional crisis would ultimately lead many women to cooperate with men in the launching and subsequent promoting of the new Republican party. Meanwhile, in the South, the rapid decline of the Whigs as viable opponents of the Democrats would sharply reduce direct involvement in partisan electoral activities. Yet at the same time, a few southern women would take up their pens and vigorously defend their section from outside attack, and at the end of the decade many more would openly encourage the idea of secession from the Union. But prior to that juncture almost the entire wave of new female activism came from above the Mason-Dixon line.1
The growing involvement of northern women in the political process was the result of many factors, some representing trends that had begun in previous years. For one thing, the number of women in the workforce was increasing and was presumably contributing to a heightened political awareness. For another, women's educational level was gradually rising.