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Vol. 29 (2009)

"˜So Pleasant to be a School Maam': The Civil War as an Educational Force for Women

  • Dr. Lucy E. Bailey
June 21, 2017


Scrutinizing the documentary traces of women's lives reveals the significant variability in what constitutes women's leadership and advancement historically. During war time, even the act of writing a letter offered women opportunities to advance their learning. This paper draws from a collection of over 150 letters Northern women wrote during the American Civil War to consider aspects of women's educational experiences during this devastating national conflict that spanned four bloody years and involved millions of Americans (Bailey, 2008; Rhoades & Bailey, 2009). Women's historians have explored how the war shaped women's social roles, gendered consciousness, and political organizing, yet its educational implications remain an under-theorized aspect of the war's complicated legacy worth exploring further. The letters under study highlight four aspects of women's education during the American Civil War: (a) women's varied attitudes toward new opportunities to teach and attend school, (b) wartime correspondence as an educational tool, (c) home front demands as obstacles to women's pursuit of formal education; and, conversely, (d) war events as educational forces in women's lives. Each has implications for reconsidering women's leadership and advancement historically.