In dealing with the aftermath of the Civil War, women still clung to personal ideologies. Old prejudices remained and divided them.
While the men were away, women began running households, farms, businesses, and whole communities by themselves. They had a taste of what life was like without a man’s “protection” and while many embraced the idea of independence, the wealthier upper-class women, especially in the South, were not fond of this unknown future. For many people, the idea of racial equality with former slaves was an even more unsavory prospect.
Clinging to the past was a way to avoid dealing with the changes in society. In the South, there is a new sense of preserving the memory of the “Lost Cause” and a romanticism of the glorious bygone days. Southern white women started becoming politically active for the first time. Confederate Memorial Societies form to erect statues and monuments to the fallen leaders. It was a way of further reinforcing pre-war social hierarchy and keeping their positions in society as being superior among racial classes. To lionize the great bravery of their southern soldiers and how heroically they died was a way of obscuring the fact that their lifestyle and cause was deeply rooted in the oppression and outright ownership of other human beings.
At the same time, African-American women were forming organizations to honor their dead, celebrate the bravery of African Americans during the war, and help build community amongst the former slaves who often were unsure of where they belonged in this new society. They created thousands of organizations aimed at “uplifting the race,” because to be freed is one thing, to deal with the emotional and psychological repercussions of what that means after a whole life of slavery is another.
Even when the men did come home from war, they came back with PSTD and often very severe medical issues. Many times, the wife had to remain the provider and manager of the household. After the war, suicide and divorce became far more acceptable among whites but less acceptable in African-American communities. Now that former slave families could not be separated on the whim of a slave owner, there was a preciousness in taking care of your family and keeping it whole even under such demanding circumstances.
Every family in the South felt the trauma of the war and the economic devastation was widespread and pervasive. Old prejudices flourish in bad economic times and even though fighting for the right to vote was a gender issue not a racial one, the division between races of women in the South became even more pronounced.
This week’s song pick:
“Q.U.E.E.N.” by Janelle Monet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEddixS-UoU
Episode 19 Sources: