Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention (1996)
Faust, Drew Gilpin. Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Catherine Edmondston worried about the vehemence of her secessionist views because of the divisions they were causing in her own family. Before Lincoln’s call for troops in April 1861, Edmondston’s parents and sister remained staunch Unionists, although Catherine and her husband of fifteen years strongly supported the new southern nation. Edmondtston found her resulting conflict very painful and was particularly distressed at having two disagree with her father. “ It is the first time in my life that my judgment & feelings did not yield to him.” It was a “pity”, she observed, that politics had become had become so heated as to “ intrude into private life”. Boundaries between what she had regarded as public and private domains were being undermined, as were previously unquestioned definitions of women’s place within the. As war consumed the South, Edmondston would find that little space was left to what she called “ private life”. The private, the domestic, would become part of the homefront, another battlefield in what was by 1865 to become total war.
In 1861, however, southern women still largely accepted the legitimacy of divisions between the private and the public, the domestic and the political, the sphere of women and the sphere of men. Yet they nevertheless resisted be excluded from the ever more heated and ever more engrossing political conflict that surrounded them. Women’s politics in the secession crisis was necessarily a politics of ambivalence. Often women, like men, were torn about their decisions to support or oppose secession. Few white southerners of either sex left the Union without a pang of regret for the great American experiment, and just as few rejected the newly independent South without a parallel sense of loss. “ It is like uprooting some of our holiest sentiments to feel that to love (the Union) longer is to be treacherous to ourselves and our country,” remarked Susan Cornwall of Georgia. As Catherine Edmondston explained, it seemed to her perfectly acceptable for a Confederate to “ mourn over” the United States “ as for a lost friend.”
But women’s political ambivalence in the secession crisis arose from a deeper source as well: their uncertainty about their relationship to politics altogether. Admitting that they was women had no place in the public sphere, they nevertheless asserted their claims within it. Yet they acted with considerable doubt, with reluctance and apology, longing to behave as ladies but declining to stand aside while history unfolded around them. War had not yet begun, but southern women had already inaugurated their effort to claim a place and an interest in the national crisis.
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