Civil War Talk Radio: September 18, 2009

by Brett Schulte on September 18, 2009 · 0 comments

Air Date: 091809
Subject: Working Class Northern Women During the Civil War
Books: Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front
Guest: Judith Giesberg

Summary: Dr. Judith Giesberg discussed women and the Northern home front during the Civil War.

ArmyAtHomeWomenAndTheCivilWarOnTheNorthernHomeFrontGiesbergBrett’s Summary: Dr. Judith Giesberg of Villanova University was Gerry’s guest this week on Civil War Talk Radio.  Her book Army at Home focuses on Northern women during the Civil War.  This book started as an idea for a dissertation, but Dr. Giesberg was told by her dissertation advisor to do her dissertation on the Sanitary Commission rather than this larger project.  She said it turned out to be good advice because this book had a broader focus.

Gerry pointed out that traditional Civil War history only focused on upper middle and upper class White women, excluding most other females.  He asked Judy why it has taken so long to tell the story of other women.  She mentioned that there has been a tendency to focus on Southern women as a story of survival and their contact and conflict with the Northern and Southern armies.  In the North, there are fewer examples of strife on the level Southern women faced.  Gerry also pointed out that most Northern women really didn’t leave records for historians to study and use later.  Dr. Giesberg had to use alternate methods to find information on the common Northern women.  Ultimately, she admitted the evidence is fragmentary at best.

The second segment opened with Gerry complimenting Judy on displaced Northern women.  The Widow Bixby, the woman who lost five sons during the war (and whose story was used as the basis for the plot of Saving Private Ryan), is one such displaced woman.  Scholars still argue whether Lincoln or one of his secretaries wrote the letter to the widow offering condolences on her tremendous loss.  Controversy arose over the widow’s story, with locals picking apart her story and questioning her loyalty.  Dr. Giesberg mentioned a lot of hurtful gossip was spread about the widow by those jealous of the President’s attention towards her.  Consequently, later historians also questioned her loyalty, taking for granted the rumors spread about her.

Dr. Giuesberg contrasts the “quiet loyalty” Northerners were so proud of from their women with the outspoken, un-ladylike proclamations of support for the Confederacy uttered by Southern women.  She next mentioned the story of a U.S. arsenal near Pittsburgh with many female employees which suffered an accidental explosion on the same day as the battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862).  Gerry and Judy talk about the horrific scene of women and young girls mangled from the horrible explosion.  They talked about how it is so different from your typical scene of the war but was horrible in its own way.

The third segment opened with talk of some Southern women openly resisting their government with the Richmond bread riots and other events.  What is less well known, according to Dr. Giesberg, are similar events which occurred in the North with Northern women, including the New York City draft riots.  Race and gender came up as a talking point as well.  Black women used the momentous changes brought about by the war to find working and other opportunities.  The show ended by discussing a chapter on women traveling to bring home the bodies of their loved ones.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog.

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