Breaking the Mold: Rethinking the Southern Woman in the Civil War

Open Access
Miller, Kaitlyn Virginia
Area of Honors:
American Studies (Harrisburg)
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Anne Verplanck, Thesis Supervisor
  • John Haddad, Honors Advisor
  • Women's history
  • Civil War
  • Southern history
  • Southern woman
  • Southern belle
Scholarship during the last forty years has increasingly engaged the history of women and gender in the United States. Yet the lives of Southern upper class women, particularly during the years surrounding the Civil War, has received relatively scant attention. Among the broader public, many people envision the Southern “belle”—a well-to-do woman with few cares besides relaxing at her grand plantation mansion and waiting for the perfect man to marry her so that she could then become the sought out Southern “woman” she longed to be. It is commonly believed that these women served as adamant supporters of secession and the Southern cause. After researching the letters and diaries of women from the Southern upper class for this thesis, it becomes evident that they did not all fit this stereotypical mold. Anna Bell Cadwallader, Lucy Virginia French, Sarah Pannill Miller Payne, Lucy Wood Butler, and Lila Chunn all felt apprehensive about secession and the war. My research shows that the primary reasons why they felt this way were that they did not want their relatives or friends fighting, they were so loyal to their country that they feared its division, and finally, they were unsure of the role slavery would have in their country’s future. A look into the private lives of historic figures such as these Southern upper class women reveals a side to history overlooked for far too long.