The Civil War inspired many American women to move beyond the comfort of their traditional roles. Before the war, only 25 percent of white women worked outside the home before marriage. Taking care of a home and raising a family were considered the ideal roles for women, while men increasingly worked outside the home. This situation created separate spheres for men and women in American society. During the war, however, women often worked alongside men as equals in hospitals, offices, factories, and political organizations. In addition, many women began paying attention to current events because many issues had a direct impact on their lives. They began speaking out about military and political matters, proving that they were literate and had the capacity to form well-reasoned opinions. As a result, women were generally taken more seriously in society. "By the end of the war, gone or at least fast disappearing was the typical stereotype of women as delicate, submissive [docile or yielding] China dolls," Culpepper wrote. "The change was a welcome one for many women who savored their newly acquired independence and emerging feelings of self-worth."
But the end of the war brought other problems for some women, particularly in the South. Many soldiers returned home defeated and disheartened, while others faced severe physical or emotional problems. Many families had lost their homes and property during the war. To make matters worse, Confederate money suddenly became worthless, which left many families with heavy debts.
In families where the men had been killed or disabled, women were often required to enter the work force. As a result, the social restrictions that had prevented many women from working outside the home gradually relaxed. Some women chose to continue their volunteer work at hospitals and veterans' rehabilitation centers, while others turned their attention to new causes, such as women's rights. Greater numbers of women sought higher education, and many colleges and universities around the country began admitting women.
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