Date of Award

Spring 2001

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation studies northern middle-class women as soldiers' aid society workers and nurses during the American Civil War. It examines the intersection of domestic imagery and northern women's war efforts on both battle and home fronts, and explores how women used domestic ideals in war relief. Just as men played their civic roles by taking up arms to protect their communities, women fulfilled communal duties by supplying the troops and providing spiritual and patriotic support. As volunteer nurses, women cared for the sick and wounded soldiers as surrogate mothers and sisters and represented the family and the home in northern military hospitals. This study finds that the domestic images projected by the women helped to maintain the moral fiber of the northern armies. Based on letters, diaries, memoirs of Civil War nurses, sanitary workers, soldiers and the papers of northern soldiers' aid societies, this study argues that women used domestic imagery in their war relief to morally bolster the men and counter the corrupting forces of the war with the object of returning their men home with healthy bodies and souls. Civilians and military leaders feared that the citizen-soldiers would succumb to the gambling, drinking, profanity and prostitution that was prevalent in camp. Women responded by playing the traditional role of moral agent but they had to invent new methods to overcome the disruption of the family circle. By projecting familial imagery onto the soldiers through the goods they sent them, women continued their roles as rejuvenators and provided the sorely missed feminine culture that the soldiers had been accustomed to in their own homes. Moreover, as nurses women served as representatives of the home in the hospitals stepping in for the tens of thousands of women who could not travel to the front Because these lady nurses suffered privations similar to the soldiers and exposed themselves to disease, the two felt a closeness and a respect for each other that was more immediate than other camp to home relationships. Female nurses became the liaison between the hospital and home by comforting and caring for the soldiers with familial affection and by keeping the aid societies apprised of the state of the battlefront. Touches of home sent by the sanitary societies provided the stabilizing influence of the family. Female nurses were the presence of the family to the soldier. Through correspondence with civilian women, soldiers reached out for the familial model. Working together, these facets of Civil War era life brought home to the camp and saved the soldier from sinking into the corrupt military world.



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