Bookshelf Notes: Woman’s Work in the Civil War

It’s Women’s History Month! To highlight women’s roles during the Civil War, I’ll be highlighting four books over the next four weeks that are great additions to a library or to borrow and read. (The volume this week is actually available online and is just a click away!)

Woman’s Work in the Civil War is a 799 page volume of biographical sketches and context chapters about Union-supporting ladies who volunteered during the American 1860’s conflict. First published in 1867, it features glowing stories about women who volunteered as nurses, helped to create hospitals, worked in the hospital transport system, aided the relief societies or commissions, went independently to where the needs were greatest, established soldier homes, created schools for freedmen, and more. It covers women who volunteered in both eastern and western theaters of war. The text details the establish of some of the hospitals and other parts of the relief systems to care for the sick and wounded soldiers.

Since it was written, compiled, and published so soon after the close of the war, it is both a valuable primary source record and a piece of memory which casts its real life characters in the best possible light—a double-edged sword for researchers! However, there are many quotes from letters, from other nurses or medical staff who worked with the women, and a plethora of details vital to understanding the civilian role during the Civil War. Significantly and understandably given the date of publication, the book does not elaborate on the role of women as disguised soldiers or spies during the conflict.

Woman’s Work has been digitized and can be read for free via Google Books. It is searchable and there is also a scanned index at the back of the file. (It’s also available via HathiTrust if you’re not a fan of Google Books.)

I’ve found this resource to be a helpful starting point if I’m looking for biographical details about a particular woman whose biography is in the book. (It could probably be a full length study on who was included and who as not in this volume, but that’s another discussion.) And it’s also a great place to begin looking up stories and details about some of the different regional or city organizations of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.

Have you read it or referenced it? What other books do you recommend for biographical overviews and encyclopedia-like referencing on women’s roles during the Civil War?


Published by Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, author, speaker, and researcher. Past and present, everyone has a story. What will we discover and discuss?

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