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A Shifting Role On The Civil War Homefront

Women on the Civil War home front spent the war years occupied with matters outside the boundaries of what was then considered “women’s work”.

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Correspondence between the front lines and the home front during the Civil War reveals shifting dynamics of family life.

On April 29, 1862, Lydia Peck took time from her busy day on her family’s Clark County, Indiana, farm to write to her husband. Captain Rufus Peck was a member of the 53rd Indiana Volunteer Regiment, fighting for the Union at the siege of Corinth, Mississippi.

Lydia’s letter was full of business details. For some issues, she was seeking her husband’s advice. On other matters, the delays in mail from the battle front to the home front meant that Lydia had been forced by necessity to make her own decisions.

She began with news of a series of bills of sale, from transactions she had conducted on her own. She went on to assure Rufus that she had taken his advice about which cows in their dairy herd to sell—she had “kept the cows you told me to Jonson and jinny,” and added a note on one of her daily chores: “jinny and I get along pretty well but she wont let me milk her any place but in her stall.”

Lydia also wrote about the complications of finding a hired girl to live at the farm and help her with household work, especially spinning, weaving, and sewing. One local girl was contemplating the position; Lydia wrote that she had spoken to the girl’s parents, who “said they wanted her to come and for me to make her work.” Rufus’s advice that she also taken on a hired boy met with less enthusiasm from his overtasked wife: “As for bringing Bens boy here I would not alow it for she [the hired girl] is as much as I want to board.”

Like tens of thousands of other women on the Civil War home front, Lydia Peck spent the war years occupied with matters outside the boundaries of what was considered “women’s work” for most free women of the period. She acquired a stronger voice in her family’s business matters and apparently enough confidence in her own judgment to at least occasionally go against the wishes of her husband.

Source: Richard Nation and Stephen Towne, eds., Indiana’s War: The Civil War in Documents

A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History published by the Indiana University Department of History.

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