Here are the life stories of three women who connect us to our national past and provide windows onto a social and political landscape that is strangely familiar yet shockingly foreign.
Berkin focuses on three “accidental heroes” who left behind sufficient records to allow their voices to be heard clearly and to allow us to see the world as they did. Though they held no political power themselves, all three had access to power and unique perspectives on events of their time.
Angelina Grimké Weld, after a painful internal dialogue, renounced the values of her Southern family’s way of life and embraced the antislavery movement, but found her voice silenced by marriage to fellow reformer Theodore Weld. Varina Howell Davis had an independent mind and spirit but incurred the disapproval of her husband, Jefferson Davis, when she would not behave as an obedient wife. Though ill-prepared and ill-suited for her role as First Lady of the Confederacy, she became an expert political lobbyist for her husband’s release from prison. Julia Dent Grant, the wife of Ulysses S. Grant, was a model of genteel domesticity who seemed content with the restrictions of marriage and motherhood, even though they led to alternating periods of fame and disgrace, wealth and poverty. Only late in life did she glimpse the price of dependency.
Throughout, Berkin captures the tensions and animosities of the antebellum era and the disruptions, anxieties, and dislocations generated by the war and its aftermath.
About the Author
Carol Berkin received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College and her PhD from Columbia University. Her dissertation won the Bancroft Award. She is now presidential professor of history at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of City University of New York. She has written JONATHAN SEWALL: ODYSSEY OF AN AMERICAN LOYALIST (1974), FIRST GENERATIONS: WOMEN IN COLONIAL AMERICA (l996), A BRILLIANT SOLUTION: INVENTING THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION (2002), and REVOLUTIONARY MOTHERS: WOMEN IN THE STRUGGLE FOR AMERICA'S INDEPENDENCE (2005). She has edited WOMEN OF AMERICA: A HISTORY (with Mary Beth Norton, 1979); WOMEN, WAR AND REVOLUTION (with Clara M. Lovett, 1980); WOMEN'S VOICES, WOMEN'S LIVES: DOCUMENTS IN EARLY AMERICAN HISTORY (with Leslie Horowitz, 1998); and LOOKING FORWARD/LOOKING BACK: A WOMEN'S STUDIES READER (with Judith Pinch and Carole Appel, 2005). She was contributing editor on southern women for THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOUTHERN CULTURE and has appeared in the PBS series "Liberty! The American Revolution," "Ben Franklin," and "Alexander Hamilton," and in The History Channel's "Founding Fathers." Professor Berkin chaired the Dunning Beveridge Prize Committee for the American Historical Association, the Columbia University Seminar in Early American History, and the Taylor Prize Committee of the Southern Association of Women Historians. She served on the program committees for both the Society for the History of the Early American Republic and the Organization of American Historians. She has served on the Planning Committee for the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress, and she chaired the CLEP Committee for Educational Testing Service. She serves on the Board of Trustees of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the National Council for History Education.
"A Fascinating and lively narrative"— The Christian Science Monitor
"Thoroughly fascinating. . . . belongs on the bookshelf of all Civil War enthusiasts, right next to the biographies of Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis, and Mary Lincoln."— Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval
"Using letters, books and other historical documents, Berkin paints a lively and empathetic picture of these women's lives."— St. Petersburg Times
"A well written, highly accessible exploration of marriage and the cult of true womanhood as it played out in the lives of three southern women. Berkin's fascinating case studies . . . reveal the complex interplay out in the lives of southern women of the Civil War era."— Civil War Book Review