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Upholding the Home Front: New Jersey Women in the Civil War

Upholding the Home Front: New Jersey Women in the Civil War

New Jersey women quickly mobilized to support the war effort. They raised money, collected food, clothing, sheets, and blankets to ship to the troops, who often lacked needed supplies. Many towns organized ladies aid societies and church groups held fundraising bazaars. Other women struggled to keep farms and businesses afloat in the absence of male breadwinners, or labored for low wages in factories to support the war machine. Women often expressed their patriotism and suffering through poetry, songs, letters, and diaries.

Portrait, Dorothea Dix.

Portrait, Dorothea Dix. Women's Project of New Jersey Records. Renowned mental health advocate Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) served as superintendent of women nurses in the Union army, the highest office held by any woman during the war. Dix spent her last years in a private apartment in the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum in Trenton, the institution that she had helped to found. Photograph of portrait by Samuel Bell Waugh, Smithsonian Institution.

Fair and festival, the ladies of the State Street M. E. Church will hold a fair and festival at Temperance Hall commencing Dec. 21st and continuing the entire week.

The Messenger for the United States Sanitary Commission for New Jersey

The United States Sanitary Aid Commission was a private relief organization created by federal legislation in 1861. It had a largely female workforce, including women branch managers, under male governors. A New Jersey branch was founded in Newark in 1864. Activities included collecting and distributing supplies; nursing; administering facilities in army camps, hospital ships, and soldiers’ homes; and assisting disabled and traveling soldiers. The Commission also tried to coordinate the work of the numerous local relief associations.

A list of aid money given to wives and mothers of Volunteers in the United States Service of Somerset County, New Jersey. August 30, 1861.

In the first year of the war, state and local governments and private charities tried to make provision for soldiers’ dependents. As the war dragged on and the death toll increased, the plight of widows, orphans, and older parents worsened. In July 1862, the federal government stepped in, broadening the range of family members who qualified for assistance and increasing compensation for widows and orphans.

Letter, Louisa Denise to Cousin Nettie, November 5, 1862.

Women waited in frustration for news from the front. In this letter, Louise Denise describes her feelings to her cousin Henrietta Boice in Bound Brook:This war Dear Cousin has taken my time very much thoe two Dear Sones that ar in the ware take so much of my time Con is now at Harpers Ferry the last letter we had He is very tiard of the ware and longs to get home once more His time of enlistment will be out next April He is in the Potomic Army Obe is now a parrold Prisner at Chicamaga was taken Prisner in one of the Battles in Virginia Oh my Dear Cousin what an awfull thing this war is what great distress it has Caused in so maney Famaleys….There is no telling when it will end it is passing before us like a Panarama for some wise purpus we now [i.e. know] not….