Civil War Widows


Once the Confederacy fell, the women of New Orleans played an important role in the memorialization of the Southern troops. New Orleans did not take well to the end of the war or the Union takeover, led by General Benjamin Butler in 1862. The strong tension between General Butler and the women of the city eventually led to Butler’s Order 28, proclaiming that any woman showing disrespect for the military could be treated as a prostitute, and therefore raped. [1] This institutionalized violence towards women created a stronger backlash against the Union military, and added onto the suffering of a lot of widowed women. [2]

Confederate Donors

After the Civil War, there were many women without husbands and children without fathers throughout the country, not just in the South. Since 620,000 Confederate soldiers had died in the Civil War, there was an influx of fundraising for widows in the post-war society. [3] John Bell Hood, former general for the Confederate army, was among the high profile donors. After the war, he moved to New Orleans and dedicated part of his time to allocating resources for these women. His charitable donations were entrusted in the Confederate name, and these alms upheld the valor of the Southern armies. [4]

Diversified Donors

Organizations dedicated to widowed women sprang up across the city, including the Union Benevolent Association Asylum, started by a woman named Caroline Murphy in 1865. [5] This asylum, dedicated to helping widows and orphans, came about quickly. It gained donations via letters to the public distributed through the newspapers and grants from the government. In this way, contributions were coming in from a variety of people, not all of whom were necessarily former Confederates. Another woman, Sarah E. Mittenberger, even orchestrated a fair dedicated to raising money for the widows of New Orleans in 1867. [6] By 1871, there were at least thirty different groups dedicated to raising funds, offering services, and providing temporary residences for widows within New Orleans alone. [7]

Organizations for Non-White, Non-Christian Recipients

Most of these services were provided by religious institutions and local churches and only aided white women. [8] There was one prominent Jewish organization, the Association for Relief of Jewish Widows and Orphans, later known as the Jewish Children’s Home, which had been in service since the Antebellum. There were also a variety of relief efforts started for and run by the African-American community. The Union Sister’s Asylum, the National Freedmen’s Relief Association, and the American Arts Association were three prominent groups dedicated to aiding the African-American community. However, they were offered fewer social outlets for fundraising and had less access to donors. They were also unable to pull in media attention from the newspapers in the same manner as the white relief efforts. A substantial portion of funding for these marginalized groups came from a small selection of wealthy Frenchmen. [9]

Decline of Aid for Widows

Many of these organizations lasted until the mid-20th century, though their goals shifted from providing aid for widows to focusing on orphans. The height of these organizations’ limelight lasted from 1862 to the early 1870’s, and eventually trickled down in the late 1880’s. [10]

Works Cited

  • Davis, Laura. “The Infamous ‘Woman Order’ of Occupied New Orleans.” Civil War Monitor. 20 Mar 2012. p. 1.
  • Feimster, Crystal N. “General Benjamin Butler & the threat of sexual violence during the American Civil War.” Daedalus 138.2 (2009): 126+. Literature Resource Center. 2009. p. 126-143.
  • “The Home for Jewish Widows and Orphans.” The New Orleans Times, vol: III, issue: 466. June 01, 1865. p. 4.
  • McMurry, Richard M. “John Bell Hood and the War for Southern Independence.” Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. p. 193-203.
  • “Town Talk.” The New Orleans Times, vol: VI, issue: 633. June 24, 1865. p. 1.
  • Mittenberger, Sarah E., Letter to Cousin, New Orleans: 1867, Located in the John Minor Wisdom Collection, Louisiana Research Collections, 230, 13, 576. p. 1-4.
  • Authority. Acts passed by the General Assembly of the state of Louisiana at… Louisiana. New Orleans: 1871. p. 184-187.
  • Authority. Acts passed by the General Assembly of the state of Louisiana at… Louisiana. New Orleans: 1871. p. 184-187.
  • Blassingame, John. Black New Orleans, 1860-1880. Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1973. p. 165-171.
  • Blassingame, John. Black New Orleans, 1860-1880. Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1973. p. 165-171.

This page was last modified on 31 January 2014, at 09:11


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