The Political Work of Northern Women Writers and the Civil War, 1850-1872

By Lyde Cullen Sizer

368 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 illus., , notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4885-2
    Published: September 2000
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6098-4
    Published: June 2003

Civil War America

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Awards & distinctions

2001 Avery O. Craven Award, Organization of American Historians

This volume explores the lives and works of nine Northern women who wrote during the Civil War period, examining the ways in which, through their writing, they engaged in the national debates of the time. Lyde Sizer shows that from the 1850 publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin through Reconstruction, these women, as well as a larger mosaic of lesser-known writers, used their mainstream writings publicly to make sense of war, womanhood, Union, slavery, republicanism, heroism, and death.

Among the authors discussed are Lydia Maria Child, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sara Willis Parton (Fanny Fern), Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth, Mary Abigail Dodge (Gail Hamilton), Louisa May Alcott, Rebecca Harding Davis, and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. Although direct political or partisan power was denied to women, these writers actively participated in discussions of national issues through their sentimental novels, short stories, essays, poetry, and letters to the editor.

Sizer pays close attention to how these mostly middle-class women attempted to create a "rhetoric of unity," giving common purpose to women despite differences in class, race, and politics. This theme of unity was ultimately deployed to establish a white middle-class standard of womanhood, meant to exclude as well as include.

About the Author

Lyde Cullen Sizer teaches U.S. cultural and intellectual history, Civil War history, and women's history at Sarah Lawrence College.
For more information about Lyde Cullen Sizer, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Engaging and impressively researched. . . . Valuable: it situates some familiar and unfamiliar authors in an illuminating historical context, and it identifies productive areas for further study."--Journal of American History

"Sizer's book is a thorough study of female assertions of political power through written discourse. Her account is expansive and complex."--Journal of American Studies

"A thorough and nuanced exploration of these authors' wartime writing. It will be of interest to historians and literary critics alike."--American Historical Review

"In this impressively researched and clearly written study, Sizer analyzes the ways in which northern women writers used their writing . . . to respond to and potentially affect the public understanding of the national crisis of the Civil War . . . . The chief strength of Sizer's book is its detailed analysis of how one of the most cataclysmic events of American history affected the lives and careers of women writers as well as other American women."--American Studies

"Sizer's work will be of interest to those studying the northern intellectual response to antislavery reform; wartime politics; freedom and Reconstruction; race and class; and the late-nineteenth-century suffrage movement. This study also will prove useful to scholars of Sizer's chosen authors, both for detailed perspectives on their wartime literary production and for background on their writing and activism."--Journal of the Early Republic

"A far-reaching exploration of the social and political impact of women's writings before, during, and after the Civil War. . . . The first monograph specifically addressing the political contribution of the era's women writers."--Library Journal