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Civil War Wives by Carol Berkin

September 14, 2009 - Amy Phelps
Get a glimpse into the lives of some powerful women in the course of Civil War history in Carol Berkin's "Civil War Wives."

Berkin follows the lives of Angelina Grimke Weld, an abolitionist, Varina Howell Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis, and Julia Dent Grant, the wife of Ulysses S. Grant in interesting detail, showing their familiar backgrounds, childhood, courtships, and early marriages, into the events of the Civil War, their lives post-war and their deaths. Grimke Weld, the daughter of a Southern planter eventually rejected her family's ways and with her older sister, became a well-known abolitionist at a time when women weren't supposed to be doing such things. She eventually found love with fellow abolitionist Theodore Weld, though their relationship had a rocky start. Grimke Weld was determined to prove that women could be nuturing homemakers and still possess a bit of their independent spirit, but found domesticity a bit hard to reconcile with after her years of independence.

Howell Davis, many years younger than her widower husband, found her relationship starting off in the shadow of Davis' dead wife. The young girl also bristled at her husband and her husband's family's ways of treating her like a child and how Davis expected her to fit the mold of what he expected as a perfect wife. Davis' political career kept them separated for much of the time and they both also suffered years of wanting children and being unable to have them and then losing their children to sickness in the years that followed. When Davis became the Confederate president and then was jailed after the Civil War was over, Howell Davis lobbied for his release and then traveled across the world with him looking for somewhere to call home. Dent Grant left a legacy as a loving and supporting wife to Grant throughout his career path, from soldier to president, and a loving mother to their children. All of the women lead interesting lives and it is equally interesting to see the social expectations of women during that time period. This is a great find for anyone who enjoys Civil War stories or anyone wanting to read more biographies.

"Civil War Wives" is published by Knopf. It is $28.95 and 314 pages long.


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