Civil War: Gender Roles

civil war camp family loc

Up until the Civil War, gender roles were extremely distinct and not many overlapped. Men performed heavy, manual labor or jobs outside of the home, while women worked within the home. The women focused mainly on the children and housework, instead of maintaining a paying job. The men were the breadwinners for the family and without that source of income, many families would struggle.

When the war began, most men and boys ran off to enlist. This left the women and children at home to fend for themselves. Without the men home working, the women had to somehow find a way to make money. This is the point in history where we begin to see gender roles overlapping. Women start to appear in the work force, whether it’s in a factory or a local general store. These jobs held by women during the Civil War would normally belong to the men. Instead of staying at home and taking care of the family, women were out making money. Some women even disguised themselves as soldiers to fight in the war. (Collett, pp.1) This of course was illegal, but women still fought. Not only are women in the workforce, but they are also on the battlefield now. The more popular role of women involved in the war was nursing. Many women followed the soldiers into camps and assisted as nurses. Although this was often controversial because of the morals of the time, women still maintained the role.

During the Civil War, roles overlapped tremendously between men and women. Not only did they overlap, but roles taken on by the women would not have happened if the men had stayed home. The Civil War gave women the opportunity to go out into the workforce and perform jobs thought to be only capable of doing by men. When the end of the Civil War drew near, jobs held by women for years were given back to men as they trickled home. Basically, as soon as the war was over, gender roles returned to “normal”. Women went back inside the house tending to the children and cooking for the family, while the men were out farming and providing financially.

Although gender roles did not change for good during the Civil War, it opened windows for women in the future. This instance showed women were just as capable as men for most jobs in the community and could be of assistance in the daily workload.

Works Cited

Collett, Janelle. “All is Fair”: Women and the American Civil War. Web. 17 Feb 2014.
VandeCreek, Drew E., Ph.D. “Illinois During the Civil War: Women’s Experience and Gender Roles”. Web. 17 Feb 2014.
Unknown. Digital Image. Live and Dream a Little Dream. Google Blogs, 30 Mar 2011. Web 25 Feb 2014.


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