What jobs did the women take on during the Civil War?

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Women were largely influenced by "the Cult of True Womanhood" in the years prior to the Civil War--the idea that a woman's work was at home, firmly rooted in domesticity and the cultivation of a nurturing household for their spouse and children. The Civil War, however, radically shifted women's roles outside the home in various capacities. Women served in ladies' aid societies to fundraise for, clothe, and feed Union soldiers. They worked as nurses (sometimes more specifically, as "matrons," a movement which aimed to employ plain women for nursing duties in order to not distract soldiers), cooks, laundresses, and war relief workers. Some 400 women even disguised themselves as men in order to join the armed forces in secret, while others acted as spies.

In addition to the tasks that were directly related to supporting their husbands, fathers, brothers, and friends at war, women were responsible for maintaining the livelihoods that were left behind by the men; they worked in factories and on farms, cared for livestock, delivered goods, taught classes, and held positions in government agencies. 

Although many were forced back into their previous subservience once the war had ended, many other women continued to advocate for their independence and retain these positions external to home life. This era marked an unprecedented change in how the country viewed female capabilities.