BONNET BRIGADES by Mary Elizabeth Massey


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This is a readable stockpile of information about women in the mid-nineteenth century. What Professor Massey has done is to consider the effect of the Civil War on women, whether they are teaching, sewing and lecturing, or spying and rioting. She also considers its influence on morality, fashions, domesticity. She discusses conditions in the North and South, trying to be fair but with her scholarly interest in the Confederacy (and sympathy with Southern women) occasionally apparent. In the natural absence of statistics concerning many of her points, Dr. Massey has turned to diaries and personal letters; consequently, the volume is filled with little tales--pathetic, charming, amusing, heroic as the case may be--of forgotten women, many of some prominence in their day. Nevertheless, the dangers of this often very appealing approach to social history are in that the reactions and ideas of a few articulate members of a group seem to be equated with the mentality and ethics of many thousands of individuals. For example, in writing about Negro women, Dr. Massey blandly makes this undemonstrable generalization: ""Negro women welcomed emancipation until they realized it carried greater responsibilities than they had ever known."" The author is more aware of the book's other weakness: in order to cover all sides of her subject, she has been forced to deal very briefly and somewhat inadequately with such large topics as education for women and the rise of women's magazines, fields in which considerable scholarly spade work has been done.

Publisher: Knopf