The role of women in the middle of the 19th century was characterized by the society according to their race, class, and position as a group of people. Women were generally regarded as inferior to men; therefore, they were not accorded roles that were considered masculine which require extensive mental ability and physical strength. The typical role of women during the era was confined to the home. Women were expected to do household chores and to care for their family. Their social function was detached from the society’s social mainstream. Moreover, women roles were also marked by their ethnicity and classes. Middle class women worked in their own homes while the lower classes worked for higher class families to help support their own families.
However, during the civil war, this pre-war tradition came to a break. “Women [including the middle class] became army nurses” (p. 421). Army doctors disagreed but due to the “urgent need for skilled nurses to care for wounded and convalescent soldiers,” they were accepted to serve in the army. From the instance, women were provided with opportunities to get involved in the public sphere. Their area of social connection expanded. The task which was considered as “a job only disreputable women would undertake” became the common ground for both the middle class and lower class women (p. 421).
Both the Northern and the Southern region employed their women as army nurses. Both were not easily welcomed by their respective society. Both faced strong resistance at first and both won acceptance in the end. However, Northern women became more active with reforms regarding feminism (p. 424). This made their government and the Northern society more open with admitting women in political and other public roles. The reforms then became one of the reasons that lead the Northern government to centralization.
The South however, failed to secure nationalism (p. 424). The participation of women in public roles which the Northern region began to embrace was not welcomed in the Southern part (p. 424). The failure of the Southern society to open their mind in reforms, and the slavish mind set of women regarding it contributed to the failure of the whole region to secure nationalism.