Cokie Roberts, the author of three New York Times bestsellers, including Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty, turns her attention to the Civil War in a riveting exploration of the ways in which the conflict transformed not only the lives of women in Washington, D.C., but also the city itself.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, the small, social Southern town of Washington, D.C., found itself caught between warring sides in a four-year battle to determine the future of the United States. Much has been written about the men who defined the course of the war, but the role of America’s women in the conflict has been given short shrift. Capital Dames introduces the resilient and remarkable women who remained in America’s capital after the declaration of secession, chronicling their experiences during this momentous period of our country’s history—and the transformation of a Southern society town into a center of national power, activism, and change.
While the nation’s men marched off to war, either onto the battlefields or into the halls of Congress, the women of Washington joined the cause as well. As the city was transformed into an immense Union Army camp and later a hospital, they enlisted as nurses, supply organizers, relief workers, and journalists. Many risked their lives making munitions in highly flammable arsenals, toiled at the Treasury Department printing greenbacks to finance the war, and plied their needlework skills at the Navy Yard—once the sole province of men—to sew canvas gunpowder bags for the troops.
Examining newspaper articles, government records, and private letters and diaries—many never before published—Roberts brings the war-torn capital into focus through the lives of formidable ladies like Sara Agnes Pryor and Elizabeth Blair Lee. Her engrossing, well-researched narrative is an inspiring work about increasing independence and political empowerment, honoring the indispensable role of Washington, D.C.,’s women in strengthening the city while keeping the lines of communication open with their Southern sisters, and in facilitating healing once the fighting was done. Compelling social history at its best, Capital Dames concludes that the war not only changed Washington; it also forever changed the role of women in American society.