The Civil War
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|Digital History ID 3076|
The Civil War separated families in unprecedented numbers and freed women to assume many new roles. With the departure of many men into the military, women entered many occupations previously reserved for men only: in factories, shops, and especially, the expanding civil service, where women took jobs as clerks, bookkeepers, and secretaries. A number of women also served as spies (like Rose O'Neal Greenhow (1814-1864), a Confederate spy in Washington) and even as soldiers (like Albert Cashier, whose real name was Jennie Hodgers).
But it was as nurses that women achieved particular prominence. Louisa May Alcott and Clara Barton were among thousands of women, North and South, who carried supplies to soldiers and nursed wounded men on the battlefield and in hospitals. Through organizations like the Christian Commission (formed by the North's YMCAs) and the U.S. Sanitary Commission (one of whose founders was Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman to earn a medical degree), women agents distributed medical supplies, organized hospitals, passed out Bibles and religious tracts, and offered comfort to wounded or dying soldiers.