Belmont University Research Symposium (BURS)

Publication Date



Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, College of


History, Department of

BURS Faculty Advisor

Peter Kuryla

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation


The advent of the American Civil War in 1861 abruptly halted the burgeoning Women’s Rights Movement of the mid-nineteenth century. The urgency of the Union war effort quickly overtook the fledgling movement. This did not eliminate women from the public sphere; rather, it pushed them into roles that would pave the way to a rekindled Women’s Rights Movement, the creation of the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, and eventually, women’s suffrage. This paper considers the roles Union women played in the American Civil War - from domestic work to nursing in field hospitals, to a brave few who dared to fight on the frontlines, disguised as men - and how they catapulted women out of private life into the public view. This paper argues that growing public acceptance facilitated the larger post-war Women’s Rights Movement and allowed it to flourish. This argument is supported primarily by the writings of women during this time, including the journals of Louisa May Alcott and the speeches of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Materials referenced include original diary entries, United States Sanitary Commission minutes, and peer-reviewed historical research journals. This paper works to refute the popular belief that the American Women’s Rights Movement was entirely abandoned during the Civil War. It synthesizes both primary and secondary source information to establish a narrative of female activism that allowed the future Women’s Rights Movement to grow and thrive.