Accomplishments of Women during Civil War

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Women have not always had a life with equal rights, men usually had most of the power and had more rights than women. Especially during the Civil War where women would mostly not be able to play a part in. Men were the ones who played the big roles, such as fighting and even nursing. Women did not have the chance to participate in any of the things men did mainly because of the rights that they had. They rarely had jobs like the men, their main priorities were to take care of their kids and do chores at home (Rowen). Even though they were not able to fight legally, some women still did and changed their identities, so that they would not have to deal with problems.

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War not only based on fighting

There was much more in the war than just fighting, nurses were also a huge part because they were the ones who would help the wounded men. Without the nurses, more individuals could have possibly died. Even though they were not trained nurses, they would still help individuals, they were not trained because there were no actual schools for nursing. Before the Civil War, most of the medical related things were done at home. Women would have the job of taking care of whoever was hurt or sick in their family because there were not many hospitals. Nursing outside of home was looked down because it put women in contact with strange men (Civil War and Nursing). Women were not used to being around individuals that they did not know, since they would always do everything medical related at home, in other words, women did not work as nurses outside of home (Wright).

Nurses making an impact

Nurses made an impact during and after the war. Before the war, most of the nurses were men, very few women to none at all (Moore). At the beginning of the war, there was a small amount of men that were nurses, so women had to fill in the gaps. Over 3,000 women served as nurses (Egenes). The men were not happy with the women filling in the gaps. The women would take way better care of the patients that they would get, not like the men, they would feed them, write letters, read and prayed to the patients, while the men would only see what the patient had wrong and fix the problem or give them the medicine that was necessary for what they had (Nurses in the Civil War). The nurses were either accepted or rejected, they used middle and upper class women as caretakers, and they earned a wage by doing certain things (Hermann). Soldiers in the Union army were not the only individuals who knew that women were soldiers too, normal citizens also knew, the US Army had tried denying that women played a military role, but most individuals already knew that was not the case (Blanton).

The Union and the Confederacy were both not prepared to take care of many injured soldiers. After the first major battle, nearly 1,600 men were wounded and were taken to local hospitals. When the hospitals were full, some of the soldiers had to go to houses and they would get treated there. Medical students that were at a nearby school, were brought into dress wounds and if any of the students knew how to cook, they were asked to provide food. Only thirty eight doctors, in both the North and the South combined were trained to treat wounds, so it was even more hard, since the hospitals would get full and not many individuals were trained to do the job (Zeinert). Since there were no organizations of trained nurses in the United States, it took the damage of the Crimean War, which was seven years before the Civil War, it took the arrangement of Florence Nightingale for modern nursing concepts and trained care (Burns).

She was an important female in the evolution of nursing in the Civil War, she was born into a pretty wealthy family. Instead of wanting to get married, she decided she wanted to help and take care of the individuals that were sick and wounded. She was trained as a nurse at a convent school, which is a school that is meant for girls, the school was in Germany she also ran a hospital in London when the Crimean War started. In the year 1859, she published a book named, Notes on Nursing many American females read it and it was the way that they got prepared to become nurses when the Civil War approached (Furbee).

She demonstrated the need for trained nursing care to not only support physicians and surgeons work but also helping with the sanitary, social and psychological needs of servicemen. She cleared the path for middle and upper class women to seek a nursing career as an acceptable lifestyle (Burns). About eight years after the war ended, the first couple of American Nursing schools were modeled after Florence Nightingales schools in England and they accepted only women, and almost all of them were white (Nurse.com). The Union Army organized women to serve in hospitals before the confederates did. The Northern Army chose Dorothea Dix as their superintendent (Furbee). Dorothea was authorized to create a volunteer nurse corps and regulate the supplies that were donated to the troops, she was not trained in nursing but she had great organizational skills and was all around familiar with handing safe political and social power.

She had strict restrictions for the women that wanted to work as nurse corps, Dorothea prefered and wanted them to look plain in appearance and to be older than thirty years old. (Burns) Women would also work as scouts, spies, prison guards, cooks and fight in combat. Since they could not be in the war legally, some were scouts, which are irregular soldiers, spies in both the confederate and the union, which meant that they did not have to show much of their identity, since they would just look at specific people and then report it to their commanders. The prison guards would just watch what would go around at the prison, the cooks would just cook for the people that were fighting and they would not have to be seen, since they would most likely be inside a kitchen cooking, there would be more women cooking since it was their job, as housewives, to cook, clean, and take care of their children (Righthand). They wanted to accomplish something, so they ended up opening the nursing profession to future women. Nursing was not just going to be a profession for men anymore, women were going to be able to accomplish and do something that men did but without getting into a problem.

Women of Color being treated differently

Women were not treated right and equal to the men. Their jobs even depended on their race (Gaydos). An example being that African-American women had to do the hardest jobs menial labor jobs, ordered to work among the most dangerously ill patients, or assigned to care for African-American soldiers (Nurses in the Civil War). Females of color were treated opposite from females that were white, just because of their color. An example of them being treated differently was that the women from the Union were paid by the Union army to raise cotton on plantations for the government from the north to sell.

A women in the Civil War, named Susie King Taylor was a nurse, cook, and a laundress, she was raised on an island off the coast in Georgia. She wrote a diary based on what she had experienced with the Union army. In her diary she wrote about how she was treated unequal. She stated that the first couple of troops did not get any sort of payment for eighteen months, the wives of the troops had to support themselves by doing various things for the officers, such as washing and making desserts, which they sold to the men in the camp. In the year 1863, the government made a decision of giving the troops half pay but the black troops did not accept any of it, they instead wanted to give their services to the state. This was just a glimpse of how colored were treated differently than the whites (Sheldon). An important individual during the Civil War was Harriet Tubman, she was a colored individual and was a fugitive slave, which is a person that escaped from slavery, she helped other slaves be free through the Underground Railroad, that was not an actual railroad. The railroad was actually a secret network of abolitionists and helped the slaves settle in the North of the United States and Canada, where slavery was banned. She served the Union during the Civil War, she volunteered as a cook, nurse, and laundress for the Union troops who had taken over South Carolina (Hillstrom). She offered her services to the Union Army and provided nursing care for the black soldiers and slaves that had barely gone free, she also worked with a general and began spying and scouting missions behind the Confederate lines (Battlefields.org).

Sanitary Commision

In the year 1861, the federal government established the United States Sanitary Commision. It was meant to promote clean and healthy conditions in the Union Army. The Sanitary Commision attempted to take place of the Womens Central Relief Association. The Womens Central Relief Association was established by a group of men and women from New York and was meant to bring together the exercises of the numerous Ladies Aid Societies. The WCRA included Elizabeth Blackwell, which was the first female to have received a medical degree in the United States. The Sanitary Commision was mostly involved by getting supplies by home-front societies and getting them to where they were needed (Williams). Many soldiers still died, despite the Sanitary Commision, over 500,000 died from disease. All kinds of groups and women volunteered and collected goods for the soldiers in the field (American Civil War).

In the year 1847 Elizabeth Blackwell decided she wanted to study medicine and began looking for admission to a medical school. All the leading schools rejected her application and after after being rejected many times, she got accepted to Geneva Medical College.She had a hard time being there, especially because there were mostly men there and they would harass Elizabeth. In 1849 she graduated first from her class and became the first female in the United States to graduate from medical school and the first modern-day female doctor of medicine. She moved to England and established a private event, which helped organize the National Health Society in 1871, she was a professor at a medical school for women in London for thirty-two years (Britannica).

The Doctor

Mary Walker was a doctor and a womens rights activist who was the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor for her service during the Civil War. She served as an assistant surgeon during the Civil War and got caught and imprisoned by the Confederate army (Biography.com). When she requested to serve, the army did not take her seriously, since she was a female and men were the ones who would mostly do everything. In the year 1863 she was finally given an official appointment as an army doctor (Blashfield).

Women pretending to be men

The females from the South had no such thing as sanitary commision. Over 400 women are known to have gone to war as actual soldiers, secretly, since it was illegal for women to be in the army. The soldiers who were identified as women were discovered after they were killed, hurt or gave birth (Blashfield). At least 250 women dressed as men and fought for both the Union and Confederacy in mostly every battle during the Civil War. They were obviously expected to do everything that men did, not just because they were women meant that they could get away from doing things, especially because other individuals did not know that they were females and not males. Some of the women followed their loved ones into the field, while some others wanted to just have the freedom that men had. Some females did not mind if they got hurt, they were willing to get damaged, get sick, mangling and even death gives out an idea of the kind of life that they had and were willing to do anything (Schulte).

Clara Barton

One of the most important females during the Civil War, was Clara Barton. Barton was a really important individual that played a big part in the Civil War, she was the founder of the American Red Cross and an independent Civil War nurse (MacLean). She did not have any formal training as a nurse, she just used her common sense, courage, and compassion. (History.com). At the beginning of the Civil War, her and her sister, Sally, did what they could and did their best to try and help the men that were wounded. Both Clara and Sally realized that the men did not have that many good supplies and were all pretty simple that the wounds would most likely not get much better, so Clara decided to do something about it and organized a way of getting supplies. All through the Civil War, Clara headed out from battle to battle, doing what she could to nurse the troopers back to wellbeing. She was sufficiently courageous to go straight up to where the battling was occurring. Numerous officers were comforted by her essence and she wound up known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” (Nelson).

As the war went on, she was reached at times to correspond with family relatives of individuals that were missing, wounded or dead. In the year 1869, Clara went up to Europe for rest and was well informed about the International Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland, it had established an international agreement that was known as Geneva Treaty, which laid rules for the care of the sick and wounded in war time. When she came back to the United States, she requested political help for America to enter the Geneva Treaty. President A. Arthur marked the arrangement in 1882 and the American Red Cross was conceived on account of Barton (History.com). She was one of the few volunteers that went to the Washington Infirmary Care to take care of wounded soldiers. Barton and her supply wagons went with the Union armed force offering help to Union setbacks and Confederate prisoners (American Battlefield).

The army quartermaster in Washington also contributed by providing supplies, such as transportation but Clara Barton was the one who mostly contributed because most of the supplies were purchased or donated from her own funds (History.com). Clara would put advertisements in the newspaper, requesting for donations, many individuals donated many things, that she had to rent warehouses to hold everything that was donated (Furbee). There were successes and failures for understanding the Red Cross (Burton). In 1891, the Clara Barton house was built, which was actually used as a storage house for the American Red Cross supplies and in 1897, it was remodeled to serve as the headquarters of the American Red Cross (National Park Service). If it was not for Clara Barton, the American Red Cross would not exist; she believed in equal rights and helped everyone, she did not care about the gender, race or in the economic situation that individuals were in.

Women have not had it easy their whole lives. They have gone through a lot. Especially when being something medical related, such as a nurse because the profession was dominated by men and barely any women played a part in it. But because of important and special individuals, such as Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Blackwell, Clara Barton, and Harriet Tubman, jobs are not really dominated by men anymore. Especially nursing and how some of them were the firsts to receive awards, becoming the first female to graduate from medical school, or like Clara Barton and founding the American Red Cross. The big accomplishments that some of these females have done is why women have the opportunity of working in jobs with men. Not everything that these women did was easy, they sacrifices and it has affected the future.

  • Hillstrom, Kevin, and Laurie Collier. Hillstrom. American Civil War: Biographies. Vol. 2, UXL, 2000.
  • Blashfield, Jean F. Women at the Front: Their Changing Roles in the Civil War. Franklin Watts, 1997.
  • Zeinert, Karen. Those Courageous Women of the Civil War. Lerner Publishing Group, 1998
  • Furbee, Mary R. Outrageous Women of Civil War Times. Jossey-Bass, 2003.
  • Nelson, Ken. “Biography: Clara Barton for Kids.” Ducksters, Technological Solutions, Inc. (TSI)
  • Burton, David Henry. Clara Barton: In the Service of Humanity?: In the Service of Humanity. Praeger, 1995
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Accomplishments Of Women During Civil War. (2019, May 18). Retrieved December 5, 2022 , from
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