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Highlights Archives

Wisconsin Women in the Civil War


A group of people at the headquarters tent of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry
WHI 33489

March is Women's History Month. This year it comes on the threshold of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, which naturally raises the topic of Wisconsin women in the Civil War. The Wisconsin woman most closely associated with the Civil War is undoubtedly Cordelia Harvey (1824-1895), sometimes called "Wisconsin's Florence Nightingale." She is the subject of a new book for young readers from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, Cordelia Harvey: Civil War Angel.

Less Well-Known Wisconsin Civil War Women

But what about Civil War women who were not "angels"? How can we learn about those who were never celebrated outside their own families? Alice Hurn, a University of Wisconsin undergraduate tried to answer this question in her 1910 B.A. thesis. It was published the next year and is now available at Turning Points in Wisconsin History. She devoted a chapter to women who went to the front as nurses, like Emily Quiner. Quiner kept a diary of her time in a Memphis hospital that has frequently been quoted by historians.

Hurn also traced officers' wives and daughters who went to the South for months at a time. She even found at least two Wisconsin women who had donned uniforms and passed as men at the front.

New Civil War Digital Collection Coming Online

The Society's new Civil War digital collection (coming online next month) will uncover the stories of many more women in the war. It contains more than 15,000 pages of letters, diaries, memoirs, photos and articles, all consistently indexed. A search already reveals more than 100 documents with information about women during the war.

Until the new collection is ready, you can explore the topic through our women's history pages.

:: Posted March 21, 2011

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