Civil War Sisterhood: The U.S. Sanitary Commission and Women's Politics in Tranistion, Judith Ann Giesberg, Northeastern Press, bibliography, notes, 256 pp.,$26.00.
The Civil War-era U.S. Sanitary Commission (USSC) was the largest wartime benevolent institution. Judith Ann Giesberg demonstrates convincingly that that generation of women provided a crucial link between the local evangelical crusades of the early nineteenth century and the sweeping national reform and suffrage movements of the postwar period.
Drawing on Sanitary Commission documents and memoirs, the author details how northern elite and middle-class women's experiences in and influence over the USSC formed the impetus for later reform efforts. Giesberg explores the ways in which women honed organizational and administrative skills, developed new strategies that combined strong centralized leadership with regional grassroots autonomy, and created a sisterhood that reached across class lines. She begins her study with an examination of the Woman's Central Association of Relief, an organization that gave birth to the USSC. Giesberg then discusses the significant roles of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, Dorothea Lynde Dix, and Henry Whitney Bellows, and considers the rationale for bringing women and men together in a collaborative wartime relief program. She shows how Louisa Lee Schuyler, Abigail Williams May, and other young women maneuvered and challenged the male-run Commission as they built an effective national network for giving critical support to soldiers on the battlefield and their families on the home front. ---publisher's description.
"Although the significant involvement of American women in the reform movements that swept the nation prior to the Civil War and afterward has often been noted in historical studies, women's wartime activity has tended to be ignored. Giesberg (history, Northern Arizona Univ.), the author of several articles on women and the war, presents a study designed to correct this picture. By examining gender differences in the leadership of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, she shows that women thought and acted independently in this highly developed female-driven system of soldier supply and that this activity prepared them for postwar, women-led reform work. Libraries that own Jeanie Attie's Patriotic Toil (Cornell Univ., 1998) and other studies of women's work within this organization may still wish to acquire this book, which offers not only a comprehensive view of female wartime activity but also establishes a link between their prewar and postwar political action. Recommended for larger public and all academic libraries."
-Library Journal review by Theresa McDevitt, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.