In the North and South alike, women found themselves thrust into new responsibilities when their fathers, husbands, and sons left to take up arms. Young boys also assumed new roles when their fathers and older brothers went off to war.
Traditionally female domestic chores took on new meanings during wartime. Even the ubiquitous task of sewing—whether flags or uniforms—could be an expression of patriotism, a labor symbolizing women’s power to aid the war effort. Middle-class women stitched shirts and flags, while working-class women in factories and sweatshops produced uniforms and cartridge bags by the millions. Women ran family farms, nursed the wounded, spearheaded fundraising initiatives, and became increasingly visible in society and the economy. Wartime propaganda encouraged women to see such work as patriotic and noble.
Some women performed especially dangerous work. Thousands of women and girls, both North and South, worked in arsenals, forming cartridges and assembling small arms. These jobs were extremely hazardous. Even far from the battlefield, women could still be in harm’s way.