The outbreak of the American Civil War opened up many opportunities for women to work outside the home. Just as during World War II, when the men marched off to war, women stepped into positions previously held by men. They now could work as editors, authors, be employed in shops, factories, workshops, telegraph offices, and printing cases.
Before the war, most women employed outside the home worked as teachers, governesses or seamstresses.
Of course, women now in positions formerly occupied by men, were paid lower wages. This was because employers believed women’s careers to be frivolous. The editor of Arthur’s Home Magazine wrote, “There is a field in which men and women can be competitors, it is not perhaps a very wide one… But there are paths of good and faithful service where women can walk abreast with man without sacrificing in any degree her womanliness… There is no reason for making his wages relatively greater than woman’s, especially when he does not do this work so well…it is a shame and a meanness in such a case to allow a man a thousand dollars and a woman three or four hundred for equal tasks… is this just, or fair, or honorable?”
The Civil War was an event that changed many of the views women held on the world, politics and female employment. These changes became permanent for many. Although most in Victorian society objected to women working outside the home, financial circumstances made it necessary.
This, no doubt, spurred on the already active push for women’s rights.
For more info on women’s work in the 19th century, visit these sites: