Term Paper: Mothers of Invention: Women

Pages: 4 (1455 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sports - Women  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] Raised as ladies, they were suddenly forced to do menial work, and for some of them, it was almost too much for them to bear. They found managing their slaves was difficult, but living without them was just as difficult.

One aspect of southern women that might not be recognized at first is how their clothing altered during the Civil War. Author Faust states, "Clothing became fraught with meaning for Confederate women" (Faust 220). As the war continued, cloth shortages were normal, and women had to rethink the way they dressed. Southern women had always relished their beautiful clothing - it represented part of their lifestyle and identity. The author continues, "Dress became a language southerners used to explore and to communicate their relationship to the personal, social, and cultural transformations of war" (Faust 221). Women were forced to recycle their household linens into clothing for the family, and they were often quite ingenious in their creations. Faust notes, "Parthenia Hague of Alabama dyed unbleached sheeting with barks and twigs to make a dress fabric in a rich brown and decorated plain homespun with scraps of worn-out old dresses -- 'part of an old black silk, and some red scraps of merino, and a remnant of an old blue scarf'" (Faust 222). Much of a woman's identity and feelings of self-worth revolve around her appearance, and it is easy to see that at a time of extreme stress for southern women, they still wanted to appear attractive and stylish. This was important to their own feelings of inadequacy as they struggles with roles that were unfamiliar and demanding. Probably the biggest causality of clothing styles during the war was the hoop skirt. There simply were not enough materials available to create the massive swirling skirts and petticoats necessary for hoops, and metal was in short supply too. Faust states, "Many women gave up hoops to economize on the amount of cloth required for a skirt and on the materials necessary for the hoop itself" (Faust 224). Many women hung on to hoops for as long as possible, but continued shortages throughout the war gradually made most women aware that hoops were simply not practical or economical. Women also began to change their hairstyles during the war - many went to short hair as a matter of convenience, and never went back to pre-war longer styles. Faust writes, "Elaborate longer styles required considerable attention and extensive brushing and pinning, tasks often undertaken by slaves, whose labor proved decreasingly available as emancipation neared" (Faust 226). One of the most interesting developments in women's clothing was cross-dressing - some women dressed as men for safety, convenience, and even humorous encounters. Some men dressed as women to escape captivity or capture. This would have been unheard of before the war, but desperate times often require desperate measures, and as women grew stronger, they grew bolder. They wanted to be more like their men at the front, and so they adopted short hairstyles and dressed in masculine dress to emulate their men as much as assert their own independence. Most Confederate women at one time or another expressed the desire to be a man, and this may have stemmed from their continued repression in society. Faust notes, "To resolve dissatisfaction by becoming -- or desiring to become -- a man is not to accomplish real change, however; it is to endeavor to flee from a system of subordination rather than to challenge the system directly" (Faust 232). Women were convinced of their own inferiority, and only as men could they truly function as complete and whole beings.

In conclusion, it is clear the Civil War impacted southern women in a number of ways. Some of them discovered they were strong enough to run a farm while the men were away at war. Some of them found they were not. They confronted their fears, their difficulties, and their hopes, and kept the South running while the men fought on the front. In addition, the war forced many changes to society, including clothing and hair styles. Women were different after the war, just as the entire South was different.


Faust, Drew Gilpin. Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South… [END OF PREVIEW]

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