By Victoria E. Ott
Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale, 2008
I have just received from the publisher a review copy of what promises to be a fascinating study of young women who lived in the Confederate states and came of age during the Civil War. The author, Victoria Ott, is an assistant professor of history at Birmingham Southern College.
Ms. Ott has examined the lives of 85 young women born between 1843 and 1849 through written records such as diaries and letters. She poses the following questions in her introduction:
- What did they stand to gain by the Confederacy's success and what did they stand to lose in defeat?
- How did young women conceptualize their role in the Confederacy as their parents assumed the adult responsibilities in creating the national structure and identity?
- In what ways did they define their roles according to the rhetorical image of Confederate women and to the reality of wartime circumstances?
- Did their support for the war, like so many of the older generation of women begin to wane as the conflict took its toll on the communities?
- Finally, I turn to the issue of war and memory in asking how this generation participated in the creation of Lost Cause mythology.
- What do their reminiscences of the Confederate experience reveal to us about their worldview in the New South era?
Twenty eight of the young women in Ms. Ott's study were from Virginia, and I will be very interested in how their experiences compare with Betty Herndon Maury's. Betty, of course, falls outside of the age range Ms. Ott has chosen to study, having been born in 1835. Betty was married and the mother of a young daughter when the war began, so her viewpoint is different from that of the younger girls. However, there was another Fredericksburg diarist who does fit into the age range identified by Ms. Ott: Lizzie Alsop, who was born in 1846.
As a side note, a character in Virginia, a novel by Ellen Glasgow, gives a portrait of a woman who came of age during the war, Miss Priscilla Batte, who never married and whose pre-war dreams of her life to come never came to fruition.