- Gender Matters: Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Making of the New South
The title, Gender Matters, indicates both the topics addressed in and the point of view of LeeAnn Whites's eleven essays, many of which have been previously [End Page 210] published. Over the last twenty-five years Whites has pioneered the exploration of gender's importance in the Civil War and late nineteenth century South. From her early essays on labor to more recent ones on women's roles in commemorative exercises, Whites has consistently produced excellent, provocative pieces that argue the importance of gendered history. Because so much of her work has centered on gender's role in major social changes in nineteenth-century Georgia or Missouri, these articles cohere far better than most collections.
The opening article reprises major themes from the author's fine monograph on Augusta, Georgia, in the Civil War.1 In this essay, she explores slavery's effect on southern black and white families and describes the impact of the Civil War on black and white families. In the author's view, the social upheaval of the war wounded but could not destroy southern patriarchy. The planter class "was defeated... not vanquished" (p. 24), and privileged women more resented their class losses than they appreciated possible changes in gender roles.
The other articles center around three topics: the relation of gender to the Civil War in Missouri, to postwar commemoration efforts, and to industrialization and industrial reform in late nineteenth-century Georgia. Her articles on Missouri describe the interplay between nationalism and gender roles and ideals in a western border state. For example, her article on "The Ladies National League" examines the way that the demands of the war politicized women. While women's rights activists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton believed such female loyalty organizations could be a way to further the causes of antislavery and women's political rights, the Missouri Unionist ladies actually concentrated on whipping up enthusiasm for the war and denigrating their Confederate counterparts. Indeed, the state became a battleground among different groups of women, as the Ladies National League both criticized pro-Confederate women as unladylike and supported the Union army's exile of them.
In her book on Augusta, Georgia and in the article on the Ladies Memorial Association reprinted here, Whites led the way in examining women's commemorative activities undertaken after the war. Her article, "Stand By Your Man," draws parallels between the women's activities and ideology and that of the Ku Klux Klan. While others have suggested these activities empowered women, Whites emphasizes the way that the women's participation in public affairs "not only failed to undercut white male domination, it in fact served to reinforce it" (p. 94)
Whites's articles on industrialization trace the ways that gender played a part in how these social changes were experienced and understood. "Paternalism and Protest in August's Cotton Mills" examines the mill owner and mill hand relationship, which earlier scholars assumed to be one involving males. Yes those of the capitalist class undertaking benevolent activity were more likely the mill owners' wives, while the earliest workers were women, especially rural widows and their children. Over time, the mills increasingly tried to hire men as workers. Whites argues that a working class militancy that united the male and female mill hands emerged but was not able to win concessions from the mill owners. Three essays examine the activities of Rebecca Latimer Felton, a Georgia woman prominent in politics and reform activities. Whites dissects the thought of this woman who, while sympathizing with women workers, defended the [End Page 211] mill owners and conditions there as providing necessary work for impoverished women. Her approach to improving the lives of female mill workers relied largely on temperance; she believed that outlawing the sale of alcohol would improve the homes of the poor. While Felton campaigned for better education for white women, Whites also argues that these proposed reforms for...