- Recent Works in the History of Women and War in National and Transnational Perspective
Thirty years ago and more, historians of women began to reexamine the history of warfare and the state with questions about women in mind. Their work provided a strong foundation for subsequent generations of historians of women and gender who have expanded the field and developed new theoretical approaches. Five recent books affirm the vitality and theoretical importance of this area of inquiry and analysis and highlight the ongoing stages in the writing of the history of women and war.
Joe A. Mobley's Weary of War: Life on the Confederate Home Front is part of Praeger's Reflections on the Civil War Era series. Mobley, a former historian with the North Carolina Office of Archives and History who now teaches history at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, wrote the book as a "fresh look at life on the Confederate home front for the general reader and the new student of the American Civil War." (xiii) Mobley's purpose is to provide an introductory synthesis on the wartime Confederacy and those living within and escaping its boundaries; he has incorporated women's experiences throughout the narrative and has made them the center of his [End Page 183] study of wartime marriage and family life in the region. Mobley relies on the work of several generations of historians of women and the US Civil War, from Mary Elizabeth Massey to Bell Irvin Wiley to Drew Gilpin Faust, and utilizes materials from important scholarly anthologies including those edited by Catherine Clinton. He also brings the voices of women to his narrative directly by drawing from their diaries, letters, and reminiscences.
The result is that this popular history of the Confederate home front contains many details about the lives of women across topical chapters. In his chapter on medical issues and the Confederacy, for example, Mobley includes information on white women such as Kate Cummins, a volunteer nurse, and Sally Tompkins, who operated a Richmond hospital. His analysis of the Mississippi smallpox epidemic of 1863-1864 situates African American women and children who were particularly affected. Other chapters contain similar coverage. Working-class women found opportunities in new wartime industries but also danger and death in munitions plants. Their successful December 1863 strike at the Confederate States Laboratory in Richmond is a part of his narrative on wartime labor issues. Due to the shortage of male white collar workers, white women found work in the Confederate bureaucracy, including the Treasury Department, War Department, and office of the Quartermaster. A female clerk could make sixty-five dollars per month as compared to the eleven dollars an army private earned. Female colleges and academies were on the rise at the outbreak of war, and more were chartered in the South than the North during the conflict. White women became teachers in Confederate public and private schools in meaningful numbers (from 7.5 percent to forty percent in North Carolina public schools, for example) as male teachers went to war. And female teachers, African American and white, came to occupied Southern territory as part of the work of Northern abolitionist and reform societies, including black abolitionist Charlotte Forten. Mobley recounts the ways that white women tried to cope with wartime shortages, poverty, and danger...