Female re-enactors remember foremothers' strength
For every soldier who fought in the Civil War, there was a mother, sister, wife or daughter who suddenly became the head of the household, said Gettysburg re-enactor Joy Melcher.
People often forget the bravery those women showed in the 1860s, she said, because they're more interested in the lives of soldiers. But women, too, had their own battles to fight on the home front, Melcher said.
“We teach people an appreciation for what our foremothers went through,” Melcher said of her work at the Civil War Lady, a historical outfitting boutique. “When things got really tough, women were left to rely on their own resources.”
Re-enactor Patty Ewers said she often thinks of women of the Civil War as the first “Rosie the Riveters.”
Women could be found working the fields, serving as nurses, sewing uniforms in army depots and laboring in the Christian Commission, Ewers said. And all of this was in addition to running a household, raising children and managing finances, she added.
“They had to have been amazing,” Ewers said, reflecting on the era of women she was representing at the 151st Battle of Gettysburg. “I can't even imagine. They were a lot stronger and a lot smarter than we are now.”
Modern women have it easier because they have more support than was common during the Civil War, agreed Teri Coe, who played a widow during re-enactment events. There is a better understanding and availability of resources for families at home when a loved one is deployed, she said.
“Everyone thinks about the men who go off to war, but I prefer to think about the civilian families that are left behind,” Coe said.
Southern belle re-enactor Emilie Baylies said she has a deep respect for women on the home front because her father served as an Army medic and her brother as a paratrooper.
“I understand that it's similar, but we have things a lot easier,” Baylies said.
“I can't imagine suddenly losing contact and not knowing if they are alive. Now, we can just make a phone call, but then you'd have to wait months to know anything.”
But whether for women of the Civil War or women of today, strength is found in numbers, said merchant re-enactor Susan Saum-Wicklein. Historically, women always come together to support each other in times of great conflict, she said.
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