Elite southern women of the antebellum South had a clearly established role in their patriarchal slave society. Their world was contained in the domestic sphere and although they worked, their lives were defined by their helplessness and dependence on men. The Civil War brought many changes to women’s lives as the necessities of war forced them from their homes. Women worked in their homes and together in public to support their soldiers and to survive the home front war. They struggled to feel like elite domestic women with their ever-increasing public and “masculine” actions. The Civil War altered the ways in which they viewed their own capabilities and how they saw themselves as women.

When the war was over this group had to find ways of reshaping their own identities and those of their men. They were able to develop a new role for themselves in southern society through their wage work and ladies’ associations. Women of the former elite antebellum society used the skills and comfort in the public setting that they learned during the war to re-establish and redefine themselves. The characteristics of the new elite southern woman was based on their antebellum definition, yet it also incorporated a new level of public independence that they learned from their war experiences.


Friedman, Joan




United States History | Women's History


United States, Civil War, Elite Southern Women, Identity, Reconstruction

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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