The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Children in Wartime

When did Northern readers become acquainted with the people who are sometimes labeled “poor white trash”?

When the expression first appeared is not known, but it was current by the time the war began. In 1864, a Northern writer expounded eloquently on the theme in an article for Harper’s Magazine.

In “The ‘Poor Whites’ of the South,” this writer argued that the expression could be used to describe about 500,000 out of the Southern white population of roughly eight million. He went to great length to distinguish between the many white Southerners who struggled to get by and those who he claimed had given up the struggle to become vagrants, wanderers, and dangerous people (these are the ones he called “poor whites”). In the article, the author expanded on his theme that what most separated the poor peoples of the South from the poor peoples of the North was literacy: that there were practically no schools for the former. As long as this remained the case, the North would continue to have difficulties with its Southern brethren. As good as the writing was to this point, it became even better when the author addressed the subject of Southern women.


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