Publication Date

Spring 4-2023


School of Education


Education: Secondary


self-perception, disillusionment, Southern womanhood


United States History | Women's History


Confederate females in the antebellum South viewed themselves in light of the ideology of Southern womanhood, a series of gender norms that outlined their proper place in the home and society. The Civil War upended the social structure supporting Southern womanhood and challenged female commitment to the Confederacy, as increasing hardships and suffering led to widespread disillusionment among Confederate females. Conventional interpretations of female disillusionment maintain that it represented continuity in antebellum self-perceptions, amounting to bitterness over the forced abandonment of their way of life and an ardent desire to return to normalcy. However, the focus on the overall continuity of Confederate women’s self-perceptions is a disservice to the historical record, as it overlooks the important shifts in sense of self that did occur near the end of the war, even if they were only temporary. This thesis seeks to further explore the ways in which female disillusionment marked an unprecedented split from traditional gender norms, most notably acceptance of the antebellum gender contract and the mandate on self-sacrifice. An analysis of Confederate females’ writings and actions near the end of the war reveals an awareness of the unsustainability of male patriarchy, sacrificial limits, and differing scales of disillusionment that exhibit a newfound selfhood through criticism of male incompetency, dramatic new behaviors, and voiced desires to throw off the limits of gender.