This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Writing, Religion, and Women's Identity in Civil War Alabama




Newman, Jennifer

Type of Degree





This dissertation deals with middle and upper class, literate, Protestant, white Alabama women during the Civil War and their construction of personal identity through their religious beliefs. How did women cope with the course of the war? How did they deal with the massive death toll and the separation from their loved ones? How important to the demise of the Confederacy was disillusionment on the home front? These and many other issues are questions that this dissertation seeks to answer. The outbreak of the war catapulted traditional gender norms and values into turmoil. Women, with few other outlets available, turned to writing to express their feelings. Those writings left a wealth of insight into how women dealt with the war. Women used writing itself as a means of self-identification and self-realization. In writing about their daily lives and in trying to live up to the ideals both they and society set for themselves they revealed their deep struggles. Women constantly turned to their religious beliefs as a source of comfort, yet at the same time, the religious ideal created a sense of inferiority and failure among some. It also remained a constant in women’s lives even as everything around them changed. Indeed, religion provided women with a source of strength in their trials and allowed them to cope with the devastation caused by the war. While religion provided one source of strength, the concept of the Confederate identity provided them with another throughout the war. Indeed, while some historians such as George Rable and Drew Gilpin Faust argue for a steady processes of disillusionment throughout the course of the war, the women examined in this study, while discouraged, did not transpose that discouragement into undermining the Confederate war effort. In fact, while women did become discouraged, their link to the Confederate cause--particularly for those who had lost loved ones in the conflict--created a stronger sense of cohesion and loyalty to the cause for which the Confederacy stood and helped many maintain faith in the Confederacy even in the face of discouragement. Had women turned their back on the ideas for which the Confederacy stood they would in essence be rejecting not only their personal sacrifices, but also the sacrifices of their loved ones throughout the war. As women attempted to reconcile their personal feelings and fears with the ideal they and society set for themselves as self-sacrificing women they turned to their religious beliefs and Confederate identity to sustain them. Thus, the Alabama women in this study became some of the most ardent proponents of the Confederacy even as the Confederate state collapsed around them.