Type of Document Dissertation Author Rubin, Karen Aviva URN etd-07052007-112441 Title The Aftermath of Sorrow: White Women’s Search for Their Lost Cause, 1861-1917 Degree Doctor of Philosophy Department History, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Elna C. Green Committee Chair Bruce Bickley Committee Member Jonathan Grant Committee Member Suzanne Sinke Committee Member Valerie Jean Conner Committee Member Keywords
Date of Defense 2007-06-11 Availability unrestricted AbstractABSTRACT
Scholars have not explored in depth the subject of women’s grief as a result of their losses in the Civil War. The loss experienced by southern white women of their husbands and sons was compounded by their sense that they had also lost a culture based upon white male protection of white female virtue. If their soldiers were dead and their cause was dead, then they had reason also to mourn their loss of a privileged social status that held them sacred by virtue of their gender and race. These women were at once responsible for administering the rituals of grief and mourning as well as transmitting cultural values to children in the home. Beset by anger and bitterness at the loss of their families, their homes, their incomes, and, significantly, the white male protection they had been assured they required—yet circumscribed by the societal boundaries of women’s proper activity—white women after the Civil War sought to rebuild their lives and their social fabric. Women participated in memorialization groups and organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy. But perhaps more significantly, the trauma of the war’s aftermath of these women expressed itself in new cultural rituals and in fanning the embers of race hatred in the home and in the culture at large. This dissertation seeks to move beyond describing women’s memorialization activities and analyzing violent male culture of the New South to focus instead on the activities of women to reestablish their privileged status in the aftermath of war and the end of slavery.
The performed culture of grief and mourning had a specific meaning for women in the post-Civil War South. White southern women had to translate the defeat of their husbands and their institutions into “cultural victory.” The theme of death and rebirth is the connecting matter between the Old South and New. Women in the New South had to reconstruct their habits, customs, and behaviors in the face of a world that had suddenly rejected their cultural foundations utterly. Because of this rejection and the trauma of war, women engaged in a campaign of vindication for their social position and their Lost Cause that was both highly visible and, at the same time, intensely private.
The campaign was waged in the activism of memorial clubs, but also in the solitude of homes across the South where women kept written records of their grief. Women who did not have the relative affluence to head voluntary associations could keep a journal or scrapbook. Those who did not have journals or scrapbooks wrote letters expressing sentiments similar to those found in the most diligently kept and ornamented keepsake diaries. Most southern white women were participants in the culture of racial hierarchy that exalted all whites, and relied on white men’s protection of white women.
The entire nation had suffered an unparalleled shock, but grief from war had a specific effect in the South that it did not have in the North. The patterns of violence and fear in the post Civil War South were a result of their unique experience of military, economic, and cultural defeat. Women used writing as a catharsis and as a place to keep their pain undiminished over generations. Many women wrote in their diaries that they specifically intended to convey to the coming generations their feelings of bitterness unhealed by time. They were afraid that if women failed in the task of training children about the rightness of the Lost Cause, that southern culture, and white supremacy, might disappear.
A few affluent club women made careers from cultivating the Lost Cause ideology. Katie Behan, wife of New Orleans mayor and head of the local White Citizens’ League, and Rebecca Latimer Felton, columnist and wife of a Democratic Untied States Senator from Georgia, embraced the racial views of their husbands, but they also worked zealously in behalf of white supremacy themselves. Kate Behan was the president of the Confederated Southern Memorial Association and was a brilliant fundraiser for the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Felton was an outspoken suffrage supporter and was appointed as the first woman United States Senator upon her husband’s death, although she served for only one day. These women were certainly exceptional, but they exerted cultural hegemony. They directly influenced groups of club women and those who heard them spoke or who read their public writing. They also indirectly supported women across the economic spectrum who were engaging in the very political activity of training children in homes across the South to support the Lost Cause and racial hierarchy. For Southern white women, this cultural power was tied up in the origins of the “Lost Cause Myth” that stemmed from the shock and loss of white social and economic dominance during and after the Civil War. Southern women actively engaged in supporting a system of racial violence and hate by keeping alive the trauma of war in the violent and vindictive post-war period by teaching these values to children.
Filename Size Approximate Download Time (Hours:Minutes:Seconds)
28.8 Modem 56K Modem ISDN (64 Kb) ISDN (128 Kb) Higher-speed Access rubindissertation.pdf 1.13 Mb 00:05:12 00:02:40 00:02:20 00:01:10 00:00:06