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The Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood 1865-1895


The Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood 1865-1895


Jane Turner Censer focuses on elite white women in the upper South and argues that they reconfigured what it meant to be a "southern belle" in the years following the Civil War. Censer focuses on the most privileged white women in the upper South because their education and status gave them chances denied to others. She utilizes sources, such as land transactions and estate files, personal correspondence, memoirs, diaries, census records, and a number of literary monographs written by post-bellum southern women. She helps to breakdown and analyze the re-constructed ideal Southern woman after the Civil War.


Jane Turner Censer


Jane Turner Censer.The Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood 1865-1895. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge. 2003. 11.





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Although the imagery of belledom looms especially large in writings about the Antebellum South, the actual ideal for women even then had been much more complex and divided. Through the early part of the nineteenth century, the celebration of the belle had conflicted to some extent with the other pervasive ideal of modest, retiring womanhood. Belledom was simply the best known phrase in a life that otherwise was supposed to be largely oriented to self-abnegation and service. Historian Christie Farnham has commented on the ideals of self-control that from the earliest childhood were drilled into girls in the select boarding schools that so many among the privileged attended. As adults, they should be modest, gentle, kind, quiet, industrious, and naturally innocent and pious in thought. At the same time girls were occasionally allowed to be lively and, within the confines of school, competitive. Even the world of courtship and belledom had its competitive element.


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Jane Turner Censer, The Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood 1865-1895, Civil War Era NC, accessed March 18, 2018,