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Women, former slaves, and the limits of freedom

Women's rights leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton put their own cause on hold to work tirelessly for emancipation of the slaves. Although women's rights was a growing concern before the Civil War, most politically involved women were even more concerned with ending slavery and preserving the Union. Women from outside the women's rights movement also served during the war. For example, Dorothea Dix was the leader of Union nurses. The Woman's Loyal League gathered nearly 400,000 signatures on a petition for a constitutional amendment banning slavery. Many of these socially involved women were more than a little upset that the new Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments gave black males the right to vote, but not white or black women. Women would have to wait almost 60 years before their election rights became part of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, more and more Western states acted on their own to let women step up to the ballot box, starting with Wyoming ("The Equality State") in 1869. Black women, voting or not, helped rally black political participation in the South until they were silenced by the heavy hand of segregationist governments.

Example

Question: Name a female leader who was not greatly involved in the women's rights movement.

Answer: Despite being the leader of the Union's nurses, Dorothea Dix wasn't a women's rights pioneer.

Northern troops in the South supported "radical" state governments that allowed blacks freedom and passed public education bills to help everyone. But by the time federal troops finally withdrew from the South in 1877, Southern state governments were quickly seized by Redeemer or home-rule segregationist groups, which took as many rights as they could away from blacks. Before these groups struck, however, blacks enjoyed a brief period of being elected to Congress and local offices, which outraged former slave masters.

White Southerners called anyone from the North who helped Reconstruction a carpetbagger (1870), taking a dig at the image of outsiders arriving with cheap luggage made out of carpets. Southerners who cooperated with Reconstruction were called scalawags (1870). The most important and lasting contribution of the carpetbagger governments was the establishment of a system of education in the South.

Although Reconstruction Southern state governments did have their share of mismanagement, they were no more outrageous than the scams going on in some Northern capitals at this time. Reconstruction governments got some important work going in public education and road repair.

Blacks as well as poor whites in the South were forced into sharecropping. In a system reminiscent of feudalism, they worked their small parts of a large plantation owned by a landlord and turned over a third or more of their crops to the landlord. Worse, sharecroppers were required to buy supplies from the landowner and sell their own crops to the landlord at prices that the landlord set. Because the landlord kept all the accounts, any halfway crooked landlord could make sure his sharecroppers stayed perpetually in debt.

Example

Question: What lasting accomplishments of carpetbagger governments remained even after the Redeemers took over?

Answer: The greatest accomplishment of the carpetbagger Southern governments that survived the Redeemer segregationist takeover was a lasting public education system.

Example

Question: How did blacks earn money after the Civil War?

Answer: Most of them were sharecroppers close to where they'd been slaves.

 
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