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Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies)

45 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0807822555
ISBN-10: 0807822558
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Faust (The Creation of Confederate Nationalism) makes a major contribution to both Civil War historiography and women's studies in this outstanding analysis of the impact of secession, invasion and conquest on Southern white women. Antebellum images based on helplessness and dependence were challenged as women assumed an increasing range of social and economic responsibilities. Their successes were, however, at best mixed, involving high levels of improvisation. The failure of Southern men to sustain their patriarchal pretensions on the battlefield also broke the prewar gender contract of dependence in return for protection. Women of the South after 1865 confronted both their doubt about what they could accomplish by themselves and their desire to avoid reliance on men. The women's rights movement in the South thus grew from necessity and disappointment-a sharp contrast to the ebullient optimism of its Northern counterpart. Faust's provocative analysis of a complex subject merits a place in all collections of U.S. history. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

YA-Privileged, upper-class white women of the Confederacy faced overwhelming changes in their lives as men went off to war and they struggled with new and demanding responsibilities. Having to run farms and manage often insubordinate slaves, learn to perform menial domestic chores, cope with loneliness and shortages of food and clothing, and provide support to the army thrust them into situations that their gender had never coped with in antebellum southern life. Those women found themselves needing to learn new skills, often contrary to their social upbringing. Some retreated into themselves, but many, moved not only by patriotism but also by a reluctant new freedom, crossed social barriers to become teachers, nurses, shopkeepers, and writers. Forced by necessity, they reinvented themselves. Through their own words from diaries, journals, and letters, and from newspapers, Faust carefully analyses the issues of gender and class as well as attitudes regarding race that permeated these women's lives. A thought-provoking study that will be an excellent supplement for women's studies and American history classes.
Mary T. Gerrity, Queen Anne School Library, Upper Marlboro, MD
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies
  • Hardcover: 326 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (March 4, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807822558
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807822555
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #854,848 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Judith Miller VINE VOICE on October 24, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Starting with the haunting faces of the young women who are pictured on the cover, to the many illustrations through out, we learn of the thoughts and activities that occupied the daily lives of the women of the Confederacy. This book is filled with wonderful diary excerpts, parts of letters and interesting photographs. Through these means we are given an insightful look at the way Southern women lived during the most tragic of times, our American Civil War.

I've read a great deal about this particular era, but learned so much from this book. For instance, I had no idea that many men wanted their wives to accompany them off to war. Some of these women did just that and lamented about leaving their children behind with relatives. One young woman said that her husband was "ordering me to Mississippi" in the summer of 1862, and how brokenhearted she was because she feared that her baby would forget her while she was away.

Another interesting fact was that numerous ladies wrote personal letters to President Jefferson Davis and requested that their husbands or sons be sent home because they were needed by their families. Other ladies wrote directly to their husbands and clearly told them they had given enough effort to the war, and it was time to come home.

Some of the other information that is discussed is how women were often forced to move in with relatives and how their days were filled with unfamiliar work. They also were required, with very little experience, to manage their slave labor and operate plantations or farms. Some women seemed to enjoy the challenge, and for others the burden was too much.

The blockade of goods going to the South was another problem to deal with because so many of the items of necessity were manufactured in the North.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By K. Bourn on November 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
In "Mothers of Invention," Drew Gilpin Faust explores the ways in which the Civil War transformed traditional gender roles among middle- and upper-class southern women. Gilpin theorizes that Confederate women certainly were aware of the effect that government policies had on their lives-even if the leaders, at times, were not-and that women's views conscription, home defense, economic production and slavery influenced and, ultimately, undermined their support for the war.
Her key point seems to be that the war overturned the "social contract" in which elite women accepted subordination and dependence for male protection and privilege. Although men were off protecting their homes in the abstract sense, women were left to deal with the day-to-day realities of food shortages and an invading army occupying their homes.
Narrowing exceptions to the draft, the military's refusals to grant furloughs in times of great family need, and government policies regarding food requisitions especially galled women. Faust puts a particularly interesting gender perspective on the draft exemption for those owning 20+ slaves. Normally, this exemption is viewed solely in class terms: "Rich man's war, poor man's fight." Faust, however, brings attention to the fear that white women experienced being left alone to manage large slave populations without a man's help. Women feared murder and uprisings from a slave population that was growing increasingly rebellious. The priority ultimately given to equitably treating draft-age white men and the burden of managing slaves led to a decline in women's support for the slave system and for the Confederacy, she argues.
In addition to slave management, Faust explores other ways in which the war caused elite white women to step into traditional male roles.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Mercy Bell on July 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
The subject matter is hard to find a book on, much less a good read, thus this book is a rarity, and it is very very well done.
It's a very trustworthy read with no opinionated ego trips and an amazing amount of information. Drew Faust is the queen of primary sources. Everything you read by her is straight from an original. She truly does her research, then puts it in a form that is a delightful and captivating read. I found "Mother of Invention" to not only be incredibly informative (you'll learn quite a bit in one sentence) but and outstanding book that I vied to pick up even more than a novel.
There's something incredibly satisfying in reading a research book and actually really remembering it because you liked it.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
A wonderful book about women during the Civil War. This book focuses only on women of the slaveholding South, those women who were brought up to be dependent on their men, women unused to hard physical work, and how the war affected them. The author tracks the growth of these women, their evolution from fragile "ladies" to capable, independent women, and how their men, and society in general, were forced to accept women's new roles as thinkers, writers, nurses, teachers, in short, as women with brains! The book includes many excerpts from letters and diaries that show the fear and reluctance of most women to move from their established and secure roles of wife, mother, helpmeet, domestic decoration, and social director, to those of head of household, provider, and scrounger for the basic necessities of life during times of shortages. Faust also examines how women viewed the war from its beginning (cheering as their noble heroes marched away to combat) through the long years apart from their men ("come home, we need you"). Every chapter was interesting, and she covered topics as diverse as women who dressed up as men and enlisted, and how tough it was to get married after the war, due to the shortages of eligible males. A really interesting book, I highly recommend it.
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