The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Women’s Roles

Was there any person, or symbol, on which virtually all Americans agreed?

George Washington—the man, the legend, and the symbol—was about the only person acknowledged by all sides in the conflict. Unlike Americans of our time, who can choose between Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt as to who was the greatest of leaders, the men and women of 1861 had only one: the man from Mount Vernon. Given that he was from Virginia, the South could proudly claim him. Given that he was the first chief executive of a united nation, the North could do so as well. Everyone wanted to claim Washington and to assert that he was on their side. This, of course, begs the corollary question: Was there a prominent woman on whom all sides could agree?

There was not. Women were gaining, throughout the land and the nation, in terms of social and economic importance, but those women who were well known tended to have their fame restricted to a certain area. Therefore, although women were becoming more noticeable in certain fields, there was no equivalent to George Washington in terms of a unifying figure.


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