Beyond Domesticity: U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915


Introduction l True Womanhood l New Women l Growing Up Female l Political Women l Suffrage l Abolition l Women and War l Work Outside the Home l Cookery and Fancy-Work l Work Inside the Home l Mothering l Marriage l Marriage and Divorce l Regionalism l Travel l Bestsellers l Highlights l English 437: Students Research Rare Books


Women and War


For centuries war was considered a male concern. And yet, for some women,war also meant opportunities for experiences and responsibilities that were usually off-limits. Nursing, spying, and even fighting battles in male drag, the writers displayed here explored territories new to most nineteenth-century women. War was also fertile ground for the literary imagination, offering romance, action, tragedy, and opportunities for addressing national and political questions.

"Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:

What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d:
Such, such is my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?”

Phillis Wheatley, 1753-1784.

To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth.”
in: Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and a Slave. Also, Poems by a Slave.
Boston: Isaac Knapp, 1838.
Purchased with a gift from Fred and Betsy Miller to the Treasures Acquisition Program.
memoir and poems by phillis wheatley
Phillis Wheatley became in 1773 the first African American woman to publish her poetry. Written on the very eve of the Revolutionary War, her book reflects the emergent nationalism of her time. In the poem quoted here, addressed to the British colonial governor, she poses her own enslaved condition as an object lesson on the universal love of freedom.


“He was born under Washington’s flag, and sucks in independence . . . with his mother’smilk, the little rascal.”

Catharine Maria Sedgwick, 1789-1867.

The Linwoods; or, “Sixty Years Since” in America.
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1835.

One of the first U.S. women to make a living by her pen, Sedgwick addressed political and patriotic themes in much of her fiction. In The Linwoods she uses the Revolutionary War as a context in which to explore the emergence of American nationhood, and – as the passage displayed here indicates – to place American womanhood at its origin.

“To the Texan Patriots . . . who wrenched asunder the iron bands of despotic Mexico!”

Augusta Jane Evans, 1835-1909.

tale of the alamo Tale of the Alamo.
New York: John Bradburn, 1865.
Gift of Mary Rankin Bruce.

Later, Evans would be famous for her pro-Confederacy novels such as Macaria. But her first literary effort, published at the age of 15, was this anti-Catholic love story set against the backdrop of the Mexican-American war.



Nursing the Union

Louisa May Alcott, 1832-1888.

Hospital Sketches and Camp and Fireside Stories.
Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1880.
hospital sketches and camp and fireside storiesWith:

Anna L. Boyden.

War Reminiscences: A Record of Mrs. Rebecca R. Pomroy’s Experience in War-Times.
Boston: D. Lothrop Company, 1884.
war reminiscencesWith:

Mary A. Gardner Holland.

Our Army Nurses. Interesting Sketches, Addresses and Photographs of Nearly One Hundred of the Noble Women Who Served in Hospitals and on Battlefields during Our Civil War.
Boston: B. Wilkins & Co., Publishers, 1895.

Thousands of women traveled far from home to nurse union soldiers during the American Civil War. These three texts document some of their stories. Holland gathered first-person recollections from a large and diverse group of former nurses who recounted their experiences in hospitals, home, and battlefields. Boyden recollects her wartime years in Washington, D.C., working in the Georgetown army hospital and socializing at the White House. Alcott’s stories are also set in the Georgetown hospital and based upon her own service. But she casts her experiences in fictional form – perhaps she found it more strategic to tackle controversial issues like Northern racism in the voice of her protagonist, nurse Tribulation Periwinkle, than in her own.

“Northern women are rather deep than violent.”

Caroline M. Kirkland, 1801-1864.

A Few Words in Behalf of the Loyal Women of the United States by One of Themselves.
New York: Loyal Publication Society, 1863.
a few words in behalf of the loyal women of the united states by one of themselves
This pamphlet circulated during the Civil War in response to public insinuations that Northern women were less patriotic and self-sacrificial than their Southern counterparts. Widely respected for her books of frontier life and political journalism, Kirkland made a formidable defender of unionist female patriotism.


Women’s Civil War Diaries

Jessie Benton Frémont, 1824-1902.

jessie benton fremontSouvenirs of My Time.
Boston: D. Lothrop Company, 1887.

Mary A.H. Gay, 1828-1918.

Life in Dixie During the War.
Atlanta, Georgia: Fotte & Davies Company, 1901.

Katharine Prescott Wormeley, 1830-1908.

The Cruel Side of War with the Army of the Potomac.
Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1898.

“Our Women in the War”: The Lives They Lived; The Deaths They Died.”
Charleston: The News and Courier Book Presses, 1885.
Kohn-Hennig Collection.

Mrs. D. Giraud Wright, 1846-1893.

A Southern Girl in ’61: The War-Time Memories of a Confederate Senator’s Daughter.
New York: Doubleday, 1905.
Francis Lord Collection of the American Civil War.

Mary Boykin Chesnut, 1823-1886.

a diary from dixieA Diary From Dixie.
New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1905.
Collection of the South Caroliniana Library.

Historians – and especially war historians – often focus on matters that have excluded women: political leadership, battles won and lost, military strategy. Women’s Civil War memoirs and diaries, of which the Hollings Special Collections Library boasts a large array, offer a fascinatingly different perspective on the everyday experiences of loss, hardship, and survival. The best known of these is the diary of South Carolinian Mary Boykin Chesnut, daughter and wife of two South Carolina Senators.

“We rely upon you for precise information”

Rose O’Neal Greenhow, 1817-1864.

My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington.
London: Richard Bentley, 1863.
my imprisonment and the first year of abolition rule at washingtonmy imprisonment and the first year of abolition rule at washington
Popular among the elite of Washington, D.C. society before the war, Mrs. Greenhow exploited her connections after fighting began to gather information for the Confederacy. Above, she recounts sending secret intelligence to Southern troops during the battle rose oneal greenhowof Manassas. Captured by and imprisoned for 9 months in a Union prison, Greenhow traveled around Europe after her release to cultivate support for the confederate cause.

[Portrait caption:
“Mrs. Greenhow, the Confederate spy, with her daughter, in the old capitol prison.”]

Sarah Emma Edmonds, 1841-1898.

Unsexed: or, The Female soldier. TheThrilling Adventures, Experiences and Escapes of a Woman, as Nurse, Spy and Scout, in Hospitals, Camps and Battle-fields.
Philadelphia: Philadelphia Publishing Company, 1864.

unsexed or the female soldierA popular subgenre of women’s wartime memoir unsexed or the female soldierwas tales of adventure as spies, smugglers, and more. Edmonds did it all, as her title promises. She claims that she even wore blackface to infiltrate southern troops passing as an escaped slave. What she omits here – and only revealed thirty years later, in a revised version of the memoir – is that she also cross-dressed as a man to serve as a soldier.

Homespun Confederate Flag, ca. 1861-1865.
Collection of McKissick Museum.
confederate flag
During the Civil War, southern women relied on homespun fabric for their own use and for outfitting soldiers. One Confederate soldier carried this hand-stitched homespun flag into battle as a memento of the family he left behind. 

United Daughters of the Confederacy Southern Cross of Honor, ca. 1900-1913.
Collection of McKissick Museum.
confederate medal
Long after the Confederacy’s surrender, Southern white women felt responsible for defending the “Lost Cause.” Founded in 1894, the United Daughters of the Confederacy memorializes the Old South. The UDC bestowed its highest award, the Southern Cross of Honor, upon Confederate veterans. This medal’s engraved motto justifies the cause, evoking a higher power: “Deo Vindice (God our Vindicator).”




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