Available at: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/theses/644
Date of Award
MA in History
The American Civil War is often framed as exclusively masculine, consisting of soldiers, god-like generals, and battle; a sphere where women simply did not enter or coexist. This perception is largely due to the mobilization of approximately six million men, coupled with the Victorian era which did not permit women to engage in the public sphere. Women are given their place however, but it is more narrowly defined as home front assistance. Even as women transitioned from passive receivers to active participants, their efforts rarely defied gender norms. This thesis looks at Confederate female camp followers who appeared to defy societal conventions by entering the male dominated camps and blurred the lines between men and women’s proper spheres. While camp followers could be expanded to include women of the lower class, including black women, laborers, slaves and prostitutes, only middle and upper class white women are analyzed because they were the ones required to maintain respectability. More specifically, I analyze unmarried women, female soldiers, bereaved women and nurses. Barbara Welter articulated and labeled the concept of public versus private spheres, plus the attributes necessary to achieve respectability as the Cult of True Womanhood. The Cult of True Womanhood demanded that women be pious, pure, and submissive within the domestic sphere. It is with this foundation that the camp followers can be analyzed. Their actions appeared to break with the Cult of True Womanhood, but when they explained in memoirs, newspaper accounts, and journals why they entered the camps, they framed their responses in a way that allowed them to appear to conform to the cult.