Womens Weapons: Gender and the Struggle for Survival in the Wartime US and Cuba

AHA Session 266
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Plaza Ballroom A (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Ada Ferrer, New York University

Session Abstract

Historians have long studied how war can be constructive and beneficial for those who fight and survive. Male veterans of the U.S. Civil War and the Cuban War for independence enjoyed newfound participation in their national political processes and, for the most part, the respect and honor of the citizens on whose behalf they had fought. Less studied has been the extent to which women enjoyed these outcomes. The vast majority of American and Cuban women did not participate in combat; their contributions to war efforts were usually subtler, including things like harboring wounded soldiers, sending their sons and husbands out to fight, and maintaining home fronts in their husbands’ absences. During the height of combat and in the aftermath of the wars, to what extent did women share in the respectability and honor that their nations gave their male counterparts?

This panel investigates exactly that, highlighting the ways in which women in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Americas sought to make their wartime contributions known and benefit from them. Both the American Civil War and the Cuban War for independence were deeply connected with racial justice; thus, the panel explores the differing expectations of and outcomes for white women and black women in both countries.

Comparative studies of the United States and Cuba abound because of the deep and long connections between the two countries. The U.S. South hoped to annex Cuba when it was still a Spanish colony, thus ensuring a slave-state majority in the U.S. The Civil War had lasting consequences for the Cuban slave trade and its status as a colony. Given the similarities of the circumstances which led to war and the actual connections between the U.S. and Cuba during those wars, studying women’s wartime and post-war activities in both countries will be especially illuminating.

Bonnie Lucero’s presentation examines the role that racially inflected notions of patriarchy played in solidifying stereotypes about black and white women’s sexuality in wartime Cuba; Anasa Hicks’s explores the pursuit of veteran’s compensation by black women in eastern Cuba after the war. Stephanie Jones-Rogers’s presentation on white women’s efforts to hold onto their slaves during the U.S. Civil War explores the economic vulnerability of white Southern women in the twilight of the antebellum period, and Brandi Brimmer shows how black Civil War widows struggled to survive and thrive without their husbands after the war ended. Together, these papers shed light on corners of wartime experience off the battlefield and contribute to a fuller tapestry of formative moments in United States and Cuban national history. Those interested in the tangible processes by which citizens moved on from the chaos of war and put their lives and their societies back in order will find this panel useful.

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