Marital Status--Widows



Widows were classified as women whose legal husband died and they had not legally remarried (Cambridge Dictionary). Due to the bloodshed of the American Civil War, the United States saw a rapid increase in widowhood in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century; one estimate puts the number of widows at over 200,000 (Essential Civil War Curriculum). The Civil War altered antebellum patterns of widowhood by lowering the average age of widows, since many of those who lost their husbands to the war were in their twenties or thirties, and increasing the number of pregnant widows. Since American coverture legally subsumed a woman's identity under her husbands', many widows had no choice but to quickly remarry for social and economic protection.

The Civil War also altered antebellum grieving traditions in that the presence of so many widows, often many within the same community, became more visible due to their numbers. Antebellum social etiquette also stipulated that a woman grieve her husband for roughly two and a half years, while the experience of war often led widows not only to stop mourning but to start rebuilding their lives (and finding other partners) far quicker. In the South, many women inherited large estates and numerous enslaved people upon their husbands' death, becoming solely responsible for maintaining operations and adopting the role of enslaver.

Widows in both the North and South played outsized roles in commemorating the Civil War and deeply impacted the war's popular memory. Women were societally expected to remember their husbands as honorable, infusing that memory into the statuary and literature of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Antebellum social and legal practices also ensured that women were generally financially dependent upon their husbands, and widowhood thereby faced many women with poverty. Reform agencies therefore often targeted widows in their charitable work, and the widows themselves sought financial assistance from the federal government by applying for pensions, expanding the American welfare state. While widowhood existed prominently throughout the nineteenth century, the Civil War ultimately increased the number of widows and radically altered their places in American life (Essential Civil War Curriculum).

See also:

Related Subjects

Related subjects

The graph displays the other subjects mentioned on the same pages as the subject "Marital Status--Widows". If the same subject occurs on a page with "Marital Status--Widows" more than once, it appears closer to "Marital Status--Widows" on the graph, and is colored in a darker shade. The closer a subject is to the center, the more "related" the subjects are.