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Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (The Fred W. Morrison Series in Southern Studies)

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  884 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize
Winner of the Avery Craven Prize
In the ante-bellum South, women from elite slaveholding families were raised to consider themselves not so much as "women" but as "ladies", models of dependent femininity. But that ideal was to prove impossible to maintain during the social upheaval of the Civil War,
Published March 4th 1996 by University of North Carolina Press (first published 1996)
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Joyce Lagow
Apr 20, 2010 Joyce Lagow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
In her study, Faust focuses narrowly on women from the slave-holding stratum of Southern society, the elite, during the American Civil War. Her point of view is the way in which these women--pre-and post-war--viewed themselves, and the consequences of changes in those views brought on by the war.[return][return]Pre-war, elite Southern women defined themselves, not as women, but as ladies , which involved definite and rigid preconceptions of race, class, and gender. White was superior to black, t ...more
Dec 05, 2008 Ioana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book, written by Harvard's first female president, offers a historical survey of elite Southern women during the Civil War as read through their letters, diaries, citywide decrees, women's societies, and a variety of other popular and legal sources.

The portrait is not flattering. Faust debunks the myth that many white Southern women centralized production in their homes (war "home-factories"), that they successfully made their own products (i.e., especially cloth), that they managed their
Kressel Housman
I first heard of this book when the author, the first female president of Harvard University, was interviewed on Freakonomics Radio. Originally from the South, she was raised with the expectation to be “a lady.” She completely defied it by doing the unladylike thing of raising farm animals alongside her brothers. She sounded like another Nelle Harper Lee, except she chose academia instead of novel-writing. Her book examines the lives of an earlier set of Southern ladies: the generation of white ...more
Apr 02, 2009 Betsy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very clearly written - just like our history papers were in college. Each chapter tackles a part of the subject so you can put the book down and pick it up over a long period of time and not be lost.

Faust debunks the romantic belief lots of us have that the majority of Southern women supported the war effort gladly. I liked that there was no judgment placed by the author on ladies' behavior during the war but the portrait did end up being not very flattering.
Jul 18, 2008 S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans, Women
There’s poetry that makes you love poetry, and novels that make you love novels and history books that make you love reading history. And this is one of them – a fascinating, absorbing book about the changes the Civil War wrought on the culture of the American south. Death and hoopskirts and drudgery, fear and self-worth and deprivation and nursing and class wars, expectations, wimping out and grief and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

Anyone with the teensiest inclination to read this sh
Feb 26, 2015 Indigo rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
According to Drew Gilpin Faust, writing about and researching the “history of elites” is a topic that lately has not been considered “fashionable,” but one she takes interest in with her book Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War. In Drew’s estimation, the Civil War changed the roles of white women, particularly elite white women, in society. The war altered what kind of work they did, how their marriages functioned, and what they expected of themselves. ...more
bjartur of summerhouses
Written more as academic than popular non-fiction this book was a tad dry to read but I was interested enough in the subject matter to persevere to the end. Drew Gilpin Faust examined how the roles of affluent Confederate women changed drastically during the Civil War after the men left to serve in the Confederate Army. Restrictions of race, class and gender kept them prim and proper before the war but now they had to manage the plantation and discipline the slaves. And they failed.

Chapter 3 “En
Oct 13, 2012 Eileen marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition

My friend Lucy is trying her hand at holding traditional salons in her home. At last night's first attempt, this book came up in the grab pile. I lost it to another attendee*, but made sure I added the info to my Goodreads list before she made off with it. I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for it as I make my way through a few other recent civil war related titles I picked up at our library book sale next month.

*don't feel too bad for me. I ended up with a great book about Mars, instead.
Dec 12, 2014 Deede rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating look at the lives of white slave owning women in the south during the Civil War. Women had been raised to be dependent and helpless. All of a sudden the men all vanished and they had to cope on their own. Along with having to do things their husbands would have taken care of, they had to start doing a lot of the work around the house they were unaccustomed to doing as well as untrained to do. The letters and journals of women across the south weave a fascinating story.
Sep 25, 2009 Becky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting documentation of how southern women's lives changed during the Civil War. Excerpts of letters from women add to the socio-economic look of gender and class. I did find it worth while. It is the kind of book you can read sections/chapters at a time if you do not want to read it cover to cover.
Sep 15, 2007 Brad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
This is an EXCELLENT book from the perspective of women during the Civil War (particularly in the south). The author effectively portrays the plight of widows, wives, children, etc during America's worst war. It sounds like a boring book, but is actually one of the best I have ever read on the Civil War. An excellent read.
Mar 25, 2014 Samuel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Faust explores the gender role transformations and issues confronted by women in the slaveholding south when the male population (between the ages of 17-55) by and large left their domestic settings (and farms) for war. The Confederacy, more so than the Union in the north, suffered a massive reduction of white males to fight in Civil War battles. Faust cleverly explores the somewhat obvious but often overlooked consequences of this situation and finds a few surprising features along the way. Rat ...more
Feb 19, 2017 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book to research a potential novel I hoped to write. I was looking for the nitty-gritty of daily life under blockade and bombardment. Instead the book covers general themes of courtship, sewing and reading as activities that relieved boredom and loneliness, religion, and the confederate woman's changing sensibilities during war. I would recommend this book for people with a general interest in the way the war changed the higher-class Southern women's behavior and sensibilities.
Mar 22, 2012 Kerry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Give your sons, brothers, uncles, husbands and future husbands to a war that has been sold to you as winnable and God's will.

You've always being protected and now forced to learn how to care for household, children, self and your future self which will most likely be alone.

Watch yourself change over the course seven years, how would you be different? Would you embrace the new world or stubbornly cling to the old world?

Most lamented and stubbornly clung to the old world of privileged womanhood
Christy Tuohey
Though this book is more of an academic than romantic read, it is the only work I've found that focuses on women during the Civil War. I would love to find a comparable book about women of the the Union, but I suspect that women of that time, no matter which side they were on, experienced many of the same fears and trials. Which, ironically, may make women the unifying force in a divided nation.

The author did meticulous research here and found a treasure trove of letters and other papers from th
Jun 07, 2011 Sophie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was so fabulous. Just the way I like my history books--personal, filled with anecdotes and letters, and both intimate and sweeping at the same time. Even this very specific subset of people she chose to focus on (elite, educated slaveholding women during the American Civil War) represented such a range of experiences and impressions. Great to read in my Civil War class which could have so easily touched only on the soldiers' and politicians' experiences. It also inspired me to write my nurs ...more
I really wanted this book to be better than it was. It really bothers me that the name of this book is not quite its subject matter. Yes, it is about women of the South's gentry class. But mother's of invention implies an ingenuity--that women of the south needed to find replacements for those items or things or services that the Civil War denied them--that Faust never really demonstrates. It is an interesting read, and it is very informative. But it was not quite what I expected, nor does its 2 ...more
Dec 15, 2013 Leigh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feminist
Very interesting take on a group of women who are not inherently sympathetic "characters" at all, i.e., women from Southern slaveholding families at the time of the Civil War. But I did learn a lot about how the war changed their lives and about their ambivalence regarding these changes. I felt some measure of empathy with these women's situations. For an academic treatise, this book is very accessible to the lay reader. The fact that it is written by the woman who became the 1st female presiden ...more
In a Nutshell: Mothers of Invention is an exploration of women's lives and experiences on the home front in the South during the Civil War.

I loved this book. It was so interested how diverse women's experiences were. Some found their new freedom liberating, some found it stifling; some women frantically searched for husbands, others embraced the opportunity to live out their lives as single. I really liked the exploration of female friendships and the importance of novels and writing.
Focuses on upper middle class Southern white women during the Civil War: these womens' lives were turned upside down when their men were conscripted and they had to run the plantations, control the slaves and their own children, deal with a government that failed them, and make do with little books, food, or other needed supplies. These women were raised to submissive ladies and a massive war did not prepare them for the harsh realities of life.
Sep 03, 2014 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great book to read if your a history buff! It tells the hardship An struggles the woman went through during the war. Tell the stories of how woman became liberated during and after the war. They were left to care for the children and slaves and keep the family homes running. It was an amazing and inspiring story.
May 18, 2013 Eve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
interesting book, but sort of strange to spend all that time discussing male/female roles, cross dressing etc and never once even mention the possibility of lesbian relationships in the south? published 1996, was this so not yet on the radar in academic circles?!? does not one diary or journal ever allude to such possibilities? really?!?
Tom Darrow
Jul 11, 2011 Tom Darrow rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Debunks a lot of the myths about women in the south during the Civil War (such as women chipping in full scale with war production) while supporting other stereotypes (trying to maintain their sense of style, complete with ball gowns). Great study of an often-ignored demographic and even though the author has a chance to be outwardly feminist, she paints a fair and well-researched picture.
Dec 12, 2016 Karen marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
In-depth sociological history of the psychology of white socially-privileged women. How I would love to read journal or histories of women who were of lower classes with enough literacy to have kept some kind of records we could study.
Apr 15, 2008 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
really shifted my understanding of the south during the civil war and the reasons for its collapse in the final years. highly recommend it to anyone interested in understanding the social changes taking place during the war and their impact.
Jun 12, 2009 Raye rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
oh how quickly we forget... or rather how much we think we know...

an indepth look at the many varying ideas of what a woman should and shouldn't be in the South during the Civil War Period...

forget the stereotypes and read this book!
Nov 28, 2007 Graceann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Lovers
Shelves: history
This discussion of how women of the South dealt with the difficulties of the Civil War was fascinating, and it caused me to seek out the memoirs, diaries and other volumes which were used for its research.
Aug 01, 2010 Tara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Interesting material--thus the 3 stars--but the writing style wasn't my favorite. The author's writing reminded me of my own 11th grade english essays (i.e. Not Good): a grouping of quotes interspersed with my own ideas and "interpretations." Good info, but really not that fun to read.
Jun 02, 2010 Holly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was the most influential book on my Honors thesis about white plantation wives during the Civil War. Very interesting and well written!
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Catherine Drew Gilpin Faust is an American historian, college administrator, and the president of Harvard University
More about Drew Gilpin Faust...

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“Where there are so many negroes upon places as upon ours," wrote an Alabama woman to the governor, "it is quite necessary that there should be men who can and will controle them, especially at this time." Faced with the prospect of being left with sixty slaves, a Mississippi planter's wife expressed similar sentiments. "Do you think," she demanded of GovernorJohn Pettus, "that this woman's hand can keep them in check?" Women compelled to assume responsibility over slaves tended to regard their new role more as a duty than an opportunity.” 0 likes
“As the Reverend Robert Barnwell emphasized in an address to the ladies of Charleston, "WITHOUT YOU, THIS WAR COULD NOT HAVE BEEN CARRIED ON, FOR THE GOVERNMENT WAS NOT PREPARED TO MEET ALL THAT WAS THROWN UPON IT.” 0 likes
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