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Capital Dames: the Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868

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In this engrossing and informative companion to her New York Times bestsellers Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty, Cokie Roberts marks the sesquicentennial of the Civil War by offering a riveting look at Washington, D.C. and the experiences, influence, and contributions of its women during this momentous period of American history. With the outbreak of the Civil War, th In this engrossing and informative companion to her New York Times bestsellers Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty, Cokie Roberts marks the sesquicentennial of the Civil War by offering a riveting look at Washington, D.C. and the experiences, influence, and contributions of its women during this momentous period of American history. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the small, social Southern town of Washington, D.C. found itself caught between warring sides in a four-year battle that would determine the future of the United States. After the declaration of secession, many fascinating Southern women left the city, leaving their friends—such as Adele Cutts Douglas and Elizabeth Blair Lee—to grapple with questions of safety and sanitation as the capital was transformed into an immense Union army camp and later a hospital. With their husbands, brothers, and fathers marching off to war, either on the battlefield or in the halls of Congress, the women of Washington joined the cause as well. And more women went to the Capital City to enlist as nurses, supply organizers, relief workers, and journalists. Many risked their lives making munitions in a highly flammable arsenal, toiled at the Treasury Department printing greenbacks to finance the war, and plied their needlework skills at The Navy Yard—once the sole province of men—to sew canvas gunpowder bags for the troops. Cokie Roberts chronicles these women's increasing independence, their political empowerment, their indispensable role in keeping the Union unified through the war, and in helping heal it once the fighting was done. She concludes that the war not only changed Washington, it also forever changed the place of women. Sifting through newspaper articles, government records, and private letters and diaries—many never before published—Roberts brings the war-torn capital into focus through the lives of its formidable women.


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In this engrossing and informative companion to her New York Times bestsellers Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty, Cokie Roberts marks the sesquicentennial of the Civil War by offering a riveting look at Washington, D.C. and the experiences, influence, and contributions of its women during this momentous period of American history. With the outbreak of the Civil War, th In this engrossing and informative companion to her New York Times bestsellers Founding Mothers and Ladies of Liberty, Cokie Roberts marks the sesquicentennial of the Civil War by offering a riveting look at Washington, D.C. and the experiences, influence, and contributions of its women during this momentous period of American history. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the small, social Southern town of Washington, D.C. found itself caught between warring sides in a four-year battle that would determine the future of the United States. After the declaration of secession, many fascinating Southern women left the city, leaving their friends—such as Adele Cutts Douglas and Elizabeth Blair Lee—to grapple with questions of safety and sanitation as the capital was transformed into an immense Union army camp and later a hospital. With their husbands, brothers, and fathers marching off to war, either on the battlefield or in the halls of Congress, the women of Washington joined the cause as well. And more women went to the Capital City to enlist as nurses, supply organizers, relief workers, and journalists. Many risked their lives making munitions in a highly flammable arsenal, toiled at the Treasury Department printing greenbacks to finance the war, and plied their needlework skills at The Navy Yard—once the sole province of men—to sew canvas gunpowder bags for the troops. Cokie Roberts chronicles these women's increasing independence, their political empowerment, their indispensable role in keeping the Union unified through the war, and in helping heal it once the fighting was done. She concludes that the war not only changed Washington, it also forever changed the place of women. Sifting through newspaper articles, government records, and private letters and diaries—many never before published—Roberts brings the war-torn capital into focus through the lives of its formidable women.

30 review for Capital Dames: the Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868

  1. 4 out of 5

    BAM The Bibliomaniac

    I was fortunate to find Founding Mothers at a used sale, but this is the first Roberts I've actually read. I am hooked. I adore historical vignettes about women. Her books are perfect for me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    happy

    In this book Ms. Roberts looks at the Civil War through the eyes of the women who were affected by it, mainly political wives and daughters. While mainly the story of society of Washington D.C., the author does include the stories of some of the not so well connected women in the Nation’s Capital. These stories include Clara Barton, who first came to Washington to be a clerk, Elizabeth Keckley – Mrs. Lincoln’s dress maker, and Rose Greenhow - one of the South’s most effective spies in the early In this book Ms. Roberts looks at the Civil War through the eyes of the women who were affected by it, mainly political wives and daughters. While mainly the story of society of Washington D.C., the author does include the stories of some of the not so well connected women in the Nation’s Capital. These stories include Clara Barton, who first came to Washington to be a clerk, Elizabeth Keckley – Mrs. Lincoln’s dress maker, and Rose Greenhow - one of the South’s most effective spies in the early stages of the War. However, their stories are are over shadowed by the stories of the well connected women in Washington. These women include Jesse Fremont, the wife of John C. Freemont, Kate Sprague – the daughter of Salmon Chase future Supreme Court Justice and rival of Lincoln, Virina Davis – the wife of Jefferson Davis and of course Mary Todd Lincoln. One of the main themes seemed to be that behind every great man stands an even greater woman. This is esp. true of Jesse Fremont’s story. The daughter of a prominent Missouri political family, she is presented as one of the driving forces behind her husband’s nomination as the first Republican Presidential Candidate and his early Civil War military career. Stephan Douglas’ wife Adele is also presented as an astute political wife and somewhat a driving force behind her husband. The exception to the great wife theme is Mary Lincoln’s story. Abraham Lincoln seemed to succeed in spite of his wife not because of her. Her grief as the death of her sons and resulting mental state is very well done. The story of Jefferson Davis’ wife is presented as a more conventional tale of a marriage and through her story the deprivations that the South went through is told. Of the stories of the nonpolitical women, Mrs. Keckley is probably the most complete. Already a successful seamstress at the time of the Lincoln’s move to Washington, she not only becomes Mary’s go to dress maker, but somewhat of a confidant as well. Her down fall after she publishes a book about her experiences with the Lincoln family after the President’s death is especially sad. My main problem with the book is there is too much society page material for my tastes. The story at the beginning of the book of Dolly Madison and Elizabeth Hamilton – Alexander Hamilton’s widow, and how they ran Washington Society and the funding of the Washington Monument is a good example of this. In many ways I enjoyed Ms. Roberts’ discussion of the book that can be found on BookTV.org much more than the actual book itself. here is link to it http://www.c-span.org/video/?325820-1... All in all a decent read with too much emphasis on the Society part of the women’s lives. Because of this I rate it 3.5 stars rounded down for Good Reads.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Beth

    I received an uncorrected proof copy from HarperCollins. In Capital Dames, Cokie Roberts has provided an analysis of what it was like to be living in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War from the ladies' perspectives. This bird's eye perspective of a multitude of women's voice allows the author to shift seamlessly from the White House to the battlefields to tell the capitol's Civil War story in chronological order. The strength of this novel - it's multitude of voices - was also its weakness fo I received an uncorrected proof copy from HarperCollins. In Capital Dames, Cokie Roberts has provided an analysis of what it was like to be living in Washington, D.C. during the Civil War from the ladies' perspectives. This bird's eye perspective of a multitude of women's voice allows the author to shift seamlessly from the White House to the battlefields to tell the capitol's Civil War story in chronological order. The strength of this novel - it's multitude of voices - was also its weakness for me. Although incorporating many prominent historical women into the story of Washington, D.C. allowed for a rich storyline, it was difficult to keep up with the many individuals. The character list in the back of the novel includes 45 names. For the female characters, this also means the reader needs to keep in mind who her father and husband is as well, since the men were the ones with political prominence or battlefield significance. However, for history fans, this shouldn't be too great a hurdle, since some of the women are well-known figures such as Mary Todd Lincoln, Julia Dent Grant, Dolley Madison, Clara Barton, and Elizabeth Keckley. Other women, such as Jessie Benton Fremont and Harriet Lane, who were social giants of the time, are far less well known today. In fact, Jessie Benton Fremont represented the first time that "the candidate's wife would play a major role in a presidential campaign, not just behind the scenes but on the public stage" (27). Similarly, Harriet Lane, niece of James Buchanan, served as her uncle's hostess in the White House, earning her the title of first lady and was the "first inhabitant of the White House to be referred to by that title in public print" (83). I did enjoy learning more about the prominent role women played in our nation's history. For instance, Mount Vernon would no longer exist were it not for the diligent efforts of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association that raised the funds to repair and support the then dilapidated home of our first president. Before reading this, I had no idea the jobs that American ladies were allowed to fill during the war while men were off fighting. Women were employed by the treasury to cut the large sheets of greenbacks into individual bills. Many women rose to prominence for their relief efforts. And Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave, became well known for her celebrated dressmaking abilities among the high society ladies of Washington. Others had less desirable firsts, such as Mary E. Surratt, who became the first woman executed by the United States government. This was a well-researched history that provided a multi-faceted look at what it was like to be a woman in the hub of the union during the Civil War. While unable to hold political positions, women clearly still wielded enormous influence over the time period. Although I wish I could have gotten to know individual women better, this book provided an excellent understanding of the social world and life in Washington, D.C. during the mid-1800s.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    So often women are given short shrift in histories of the American Civil War. War, after all, even today, is a man's world. And with so much attention paid to the men of the political and military spheres, women don't tend to get much of a look-in. So it's refreshing to see an entire book devoted to the experience of women during the Civil War, even if it is specifically focusing on the women of one particular city. That said, I must confess to being disappointed with this book. Effectively, ther So often women are given short shrift in histories of the American Civil War. War, after all, even today, is a man's world. And with so much attention paid to the men of the political and military spheres, women don't tend to get much of a look-in. So it's refreshing to see an entire book devoted to the experience of women during the Civil War, even if it is specifically focusing on the women of one particular city. That said, I must confess to being disappointed with this book. Effectively, there is a word missing from the title, and that word is 'society'. This book focuses on the society women of Washington, the wives and daughters of notable political figures. Immigrant women, African-American women, poor women, working women, scarcely get a mention. And, for all its length, it is quite a superficial look at their lives before, during and after the war. More than anything else, it is a series of potted biographies of certain well-known women - Mary Todd Lincoln, Varina Davis, Kate Chase, Lizzie Lee. Don't get me wrong, it is an enjoyable read. It was a fascinating, interesting, turbulent time, and the women's lives were every bit as uprooted as their menfolk's. Cokie Roberts is an engaging writer and I enjoyed this book. But I couldn't help for a bit more of a coherent narrative, a bit more depth and a look at more than just women of the political elite.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    Roberts says she started writing the book in 2011 with the commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. She says she started to wonder what impact the Civil War had on women’s lives. Roberts did extensive research including diaries, newspapers, government records and private correspondence. She narrowed her research to Washington D.C. and the women of the city. As in other wars women took on new roles such as becoming nurses, forming social service and relief agencies. Some wrote propag Roberts says she started writing the book in 2011 with the commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. She says she started to wonder what impact the Civil War had on women’s lives. Roberts did extensive research including diaries, newspapers, government records and private correspondence. She narrowed her research to Washington D.C. and the women of the city. As in other wars women took on new roles such as becoming nurses, forming social service and relief agencies. Some wrote propaganda, some even became spies. Women took on positions once held by men and black women founded societies to help the displaced slaves. The Civil War expanded the role of women in politics, health care, education and social services. Roberts writes about the unknown and the known women such as Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress Elizabeth Kockley, abolitionist Josephine Griffing, Clara Barton, Sara Agnes Pryor and on the confederate side Varnia Davis wife of Jefferson Davis. Cokie Roberts wrote a delightful tale that provided so much information, she also narrated the book. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    An interesting take on Civil War history, and one that I was surprised I hadn't really seen before. Most Civil War narratives centered around women's stories tend to rehash the archetypes of the Belle, the Nurse, the Abolitionist. This book includes women who fit those roles, of course, but also shows the stories of a lot of women who don't fit into such clear cut roles. I also particularly enjoyed the focus on Washington, DC, not only because I live near there myself, but because of its interes An interesting take on Civil War history, and one that I was surprised I hadn't really seen before. Most Civil War narratives centered around women's stories tend to rehash the archetypes of the Belle, the Nurse, the Abolitionist. This book includes women who fit those roles, of course, but also shows the stories of a lot of women who don't fit into such clear cut roles. I also particularly enjoyed the focus on Washington, DC, not only because I live near there myself, but because of its interesting geographic and political position during the war. The text is very detailed, and includes a lot of quotes from primary sources. However, its coverage of so many years, and the stories of so many different people means that the text does at times start to slog into what feels like a laundry list of events. However, this would be an interesting and useful addition for anyone interested in the Civil War, or exploring the role of women in U.S. history. *According to FTC regulations I certify that I received this book as part of the Goodreads First-Reads program.*

  7. 4 out of 5

    Judie

    I'll be the first to admit this review is much too long. (You should see how much I cut!) But CAPITOL DAMES offers so much interesting material that I wanted to provide a really tempting preview as an appetizer. There are countless books about the Civil War era. Most of them are very good and interesting. Why should someone want to read another one? Because in CAPITOL DAMES Cokie Roberts is not providing more history; she is offering herstory. And the different perspective adds a lot to the his I'll be the first to admit this review is much too long. (You should see how much I cut!) But CAPITOL DAMES offers so much interesting material that I wanted to provide a really tempting preview as an appetizer. There are countless books about the Civil War era. Most of them are very good and interesting. Why should someone want to read another one? Because in CAPITOL DAMES Cokie Roberts is not providing more history; she is offering herstory. And the different perspective adds a lot to the history. It is very well-researched, well-written, and worth reading. Washington DC society has always been a personality-driven community. A person’s position was very obvious: Who was invited? Who showed up? Who was seated where? The undisputed leader for many years was Dolley Madison, wife of President James Madison. She continued in that role even after his death but after her death, there was a void. Jane Pierce, the President’s wife, for several reasons, did not assume the dominant role. Women were just as interested in politics as the men were and were very much involved in what was happening during the time leading up to the Civil War and during the war itself. They packed the balconies of Congress during the debates. They traveled to the battle sites to observe what was happening. “ As troops advanced upon Manassas, VA, accompanied by hundreds of civilians who thought the whole thing was a lark. They brought picnic baskets and watched the action through opera glasses. When battle ended, North firmly trounced, Union soldiers retreated to DC along with frightened congressmen and their friends who kept getting in the soldiers’ way. This increased the fear in the North that they would lose the war. Before the war, the women from the South and North intermingled on a regular basis. Jefferson Davis’s wife, Varina, introduced Mary Lincoln to her dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley, who was to play a very important role in Mrs. Lincoln’s life. (For more information on that subject, I highly recommend reading Mrs. Keckley’s book, BEHIND THE SCENES OR, THIRTY YEARS A SLAVE, AND FOUR YEARS IN THE WHITE HOUSE.) As the threat of war increased, people became afraid to discuss things because they didn’t know who might be a spy. To save her husband, Ellen Ewing Sherman warned Lincoln about his enemies among his generals and newspaper correspondents. She saved her husband, a key general. While DC was free, it depended upon slave labor because it was convenient. Residents hired servants from their masters but would have been horrified at the idea of actually owning slaves. The war brought changes in the role of women. Dorothea Dix used her influence to create a corps of female nurses. Previously, formal nurses was men’s work. Thousands applied but she ruled out Catholic nuns, young, good-looking women. Wanted “matronly persons of experience, good conduct or superior education and serious disposition” between ages of 35 through 50. More government jobs opened to women as men left for the battlefield. Half the clerks at the headquarters of Montgomery Blair’s USPO were women. US Treasurer, General Francis Spinner, “saw wisdom of hiring women as a money saver, since he could pay them less than men and he thought they might actually do a better job.” Congress eventually capped salaries at $900 regardless of the work women were doing even as men doing lesser jobs made $1,200. Many women had to supplement their salaries with unsavory occupations because salary didn’t cover living expenses; rents increased, board $30/mo; regular room, as high as $20/mo. Spinner later called his role “introducing women to employment in the offices of government” more satisfying than “all the other deeds in my life.” At outbreak of war, housing prices soared as masses of Northerners arrived in the city. Costs went up. Government contracts for military supplies were making people rich. Among the new arrivals were soldiers and prostitutes–four thousand one year. In an attempt to control the situation, General Hooker corralled most of the activity into an area near the Treasury Department. It was dubbed Hooker’s Division. One of wealthiest, Ann Hall, is buried in the Congressional Cemetery. Archeologists came upon the house in a trash heap when laying foundation for the National Museum of the American Indian. They found lots of expensive items, women’s items, and hundreds of champagne corks. Rich men could buy their way out of serving for $300 or finding a substitute, if drafted. First draftees were living in New York Cit. On July 1, a mob destroyed the draft office then “took out their venom on any policeman or black person who had the misfortune to be in their path.” It burned an orphanage for African-American children and, for five days, sacked hundreds of stores including Brooks Brothers, who supplied Union uniforms. More than 1000 people died or were wounded. The women of DC organized to raise funds to get food, clothes, and medicine. One raised $10,661.47. The table that brought the most was the Treasury Department. Second, with $756.95, was the Hebrew congregation. One night soon after the end of the war, Lincoln dreamt he was lying in a coffin in the East Room. People were murmuring “The President is dead.” He went to the theater that night. President Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction allowed southern states to reenter the Union without enacting any social or economic reforms or any provisions for freedmen suffrage. At the next election, he campaigned against the Republicans, against precedent, and gave haranguing, vituperative speeches, possibly while drunk. The result was disastrous. The GOP gained a veto proof majority. At his impeachment trial, only those with tickets could get in. Women held nearly all the tickets Interesting comments: 1850s Bloomers: ballooning pants worn under skirts a a protest against the unwieldy hoops, to them a symbol of women’s oppression. June 17: Seventeen young women killed in an explosion at the Washington Arsenal. More died over the next few days. Spontaneous combustion when sun hit star shells, fireworks to show enemies’s positions. Left out to dry by arsenal’s pyrotechnist. Many unidentifiable. Buried in mass grave in Congressional Cemetery, Tallest memorial there. Atop is a life-sized downcast maiden titled Grief. Paid for by citizens of DC. Dedicated 6.7.65. Seventeen-year-old Lavinia “Vinnie” Rem worked in the dead letter office of the Post Office. When Lincoln learned she was a poor girl, he agreed to sit for her to make his sculpture. It was the first congressional commission to a female artist. The statue now stands in the grand Rotunda of the Capitol. At the end of the last session of the Thirty-Eighth Congress, the Representatives churned out bills. One created the Freedman’s Bureau to assist former slaves. It was the first federal government social welfare agency. Mary Lincoln bought 300 pairs of gloves on one shopping spree and had a terrible temper. (Was she bipolar?) After surrender at Appomattox Court House in Virginia,Lincoln requested the military band play Dixie. Phillip Lee grew wealthy in the Navy because his job involved intercepting ships trying to break the northern blockade. He was able to keep some of the bounty he confiscated. Mary Surratt, owner of the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth fled, was the first woman executed by US government Record keeping was atrocious. Clara Barton: Tried to identify the names of prisoners. Dorence Atwater, imprisoned at Andersonville, was assigned to record the name, rank, and cause of death of every soldier who died there. She copied the lists secretly and mapped where each man was buried. Because of her, they were able to place names on graves of 13,000 soldiers, only 400 unknown. She was, perhaps, the first woman to appear at a Congressional panel. Sarah Pryor established Memorial Day: “They died because their country could devise, in its wisdom, no better means of settling a family quarrel than by slaying her son with the sword.” The book includes a helpful cast of character listed by gender and their roles. There is some repetition.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    I've always thought that history tends to focus on men because the sexism of the past meant that men really were the only ones doing things. Both I and the male-focused histories have been very wrong! Capital Dames tells the story of the women in Washington during the Civil War and the many varied and important roles they played in that conflict. Women involved in Washington society continued to influence politics throughout the war, while other women took on new professions, from journalism to I've always thought that history tends to focus on men because the sexism of the past meant that men really were the only ones doing things. Both I and the male-focused histories have been very wrong! Capital Dames tells the story of the women in Washington during the Civil War and the many varied and important roles they played in that conflict. Women involved in Washington society continued to influence politics throughout the war, while other women took on new professions, from journalism to making munitions. I'll start with my only complaint about this book (one which hopefully will be fixed in the final version) - it needed a cast list! I loved that the author found so many stories to tell and I particularly enjoyed how varied these stories were. Together they showed what the war was like for people in the North and the South, for rich and poor, black and white. Unfortunately, the author didn't always use the same names or nicknames for people and there were so many of them, it did sometimes become hard to keep track. With a tiny bit of flipping back and forth, this was still a fun, easy read. I breezed right through, hardly able to put it down. As I mentioned in the intro, I was pleasantly surprised at the many important roles women played in the Civil War. I think the author did an incredible job searching out these stories and finding primary sources to help bring these women to life. I wish more history books took the time to include their stories too! Not only were these women an integral part of the story of the Civil War, the fact that their stories include both public service and domestic life made this a very well-rounded history. Re-learning the big events of the Civil War was valuable, but learning about daily life during the Civil War was at least as interesting. Obviously, I have to recommend this to fans of  Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy . Although the focus of this book is a little more politics and a little less adventure, I enjoyed both books for many of the same reasons.This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    4,5 Very fascinating book, a true learning experience as well as totally enjoyable and readable. I've ever admired Cokie Roberts as a journalist, a "classy dame", and now as an author. Describes the roles various women played in Washington D.C. from 1848 to 1868, the period leading up to Lincoln's election as President, then his presidency and reelection, and the course of the Civil War. I was amazed that women could be so pivotal in steering political events in their day. Admired such women as 4,5 Very fascinating book, a true learning experience as well as totally enjoyable and readable. I've ever admired Cokie Roberts as a journalist, a "classy dame", and now as an author. Describes the roles various women played in Washington D.C. from 1848 to 1868, the period leading up to Lincoln's election as President, then his presidency and reelection, and the course of the Civil War. I was amazed that women could be so pivotal in steering political events in their day. Admired such women as Dorothy Dix (instrumental in mental illness assistance), Clara Barton's role in nursing war victims and eventually Red Cross formation. Extremely good depiction of perhaps what made Abe Lincoln 'tick', and oh such details about his wife Mary Lincoln. Ms Roberts writes that the decision of those Southern states to secede was one of the most profound tragedies brought on by human beings and resulted in 600,000 deaths; however, had they not seceded, abolition would not have been possible for years. I found of great interest that Southern politicians used the rationale that the war was actually about states' rights to govern, and not about the inhumanity of slavery. This book made me think anew that human beings were actually able to consider negroes and sub-humans and as their personal property. Recommend.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joyce

    I always enjoy Cokie Roberts' biographical take on history, and with her narrating, it's as if you're sitting down with a friend who's sharing stories of people you both know--or ought to. Her enthusiasm for the characters and their place in history is infectious. Her histories are filled with anecdotes and portraits of historical figures, but the emphasis is on women and the roles they played--here including a wide range from the wives of presidents (Union and Confederate) and famous activists/ I always enjoy Cokie Roberts' biographical take on history, and with her narrating, it's as if you're sitting down with a friend who's sharing stories of people you both know--or ought to. Her enthusiasm for the characters and their place in history is infectious. Her histories are filled with anecdotes and portraits of historical figures, but the emphasis is on women and the roles they played--here including a wide range from the wives of presidents (Union and Confederate) and famous activists/reformers Clara Barton and Dorothea Dix to slaves and former slaves. Totally fascinating and absorbing but also well-researched and documented. A painless and entertainingg way to appreciate history and the lives of women who helped shape it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    A good history of women in Washington. A bit more disjointed than the other two, but still good.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Today's post is on Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts. It is 512 pages long in notes and is published by HarperCollins. The cover is an art piece with a party of top and the Capital building under the title. The intended reader is someone who is interested in history, women's history and the Civil War Era. There is no sex, some mild language, and no violence in this book. The story is told mostly through first person resources like journals, newsp Today's post is on Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts. It is 512 pages long in notes and is published by HarperCollins. The cover is an art piece with a party of top and the Capital building under the title. The intended reader is someone who is interested in history, women's history and the Civil War Era. There is no sex, some mild language, and no violence in this book. The story is told mostly through first person resources like journals, newspapers, and letters. There Be Spoilers Ahead. From the back of the book- With the outbreak of the Civil War, the small, social Southern town of Washington, D.C., found itself caught between warring sides in a four-year battle that would determine the future of the United States. After the declaration of secession, many fascinating Southern women left the city, leaving their friends- such as Adele Cutts Douglas and Elizabeth Blair Lee- to grapple with questions of safety and sanitation as the capital was transformed into an immense Union army camp and later a hospital. With their husbands, brothers, and fathers marching to war, either on the battlefield or in the halls of Congress, the woman of Washington joined the cause as well. And more women went to the capital city to enlist as nurses, supply organizers, relief workers, and journalists. Many risked their lives making munitions in highly flammable arsenals, toiled at the Treasury Department printing greenbacks to finance the war, and plied their needlework skills at the Navy Yard- once the sole province of men- to sew canvas gunpowder bags for the troops. Sifting through newspaper articles, government records, and private letters and diaries- many never before published- Roberts brings the war-torn capital into focus through the lives of its formidable women. Compelling social history at its best, Capital Dames concludes that the war not only changed Washington; it also forever changed the role of women in American society. Review- This was a great and interesting history book. I learned and enjoyed this book so much. It was easy to read, with lots of interesting people, and about very interesting time. The notes in the back are useful but you do not need them to make the narrative make sense, the notes are just for more reading and where Roberts got her information. I knew very little about most of these women. I knew about some of them but for example I knew next to nothing about Mary Lincoln. I did not know that she was not liked in Washington, that she had a terrible temper, or that she died penniless and still disliked. There is just so much information in this book that I cannot give it all the room it deserves. The men in these women's lives are important but they really have very little to do with their stories. This is about what power the women of Washington had at a time of great need. If you enjoy historical nonfiction then you will enjoy this book. I give this book a Five out of Five stars. I was given a copy of this book by HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.

  13. 5 out of 5

    QNPoohBear

    Caveat: I studied the Civil War in Washington, DC as an undergrad in DC, as a graduate student I wrote my "not!thesis" about antebellum southern female political journalists (including Anna Ella Carroll), so my knowledge of Civil War era women is pretty extensive. This is very much an add women and stir version of the Civil War in Washington, DC. It focuses on the wives, daughters, sisters and friends of the politicians of the day. The book starts with the general and then the next chapter focus Caveat: I studied the Civil War in Washington, DC as an undergrad in DC, as a graduate student I wrote my "not!thesis" about antebellum southern female political journalists (including Anna Ella Carroll), so my knowledge of Civil War era women is pretty extensive. This is very much an add women and stir version of the Civil War in Washington, DC. It focuses on the wives, daughters, sisters and friends of the politicians of the day. The book starts with the general and then the next chapter focuses on specific women. I enjoyed those chapters the best. I found myself skimming large portions of the book because I already know the political history and the stories of some of these women. I really liked Jessie Benton Fremont when I discovered her during my research phase for my paper and wanted to know more about her. I got just enough of a taste here to want to read her writings. What I liked best was the quotes from letters and diaries and I think there should have been more of them! My scholarly criticism of this book is because Ms. Roberts chose to focus on political women, the women featured in this book are largely white and elite. Even impoverished women are among the elite. The only women of color mentioned in this book are Sojourner Truth and Mary Lincoln's dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley. I found myself wondering about the servants and slaves of these women. What did THEY think about the elite women they served? I guess we'll never know. This is a decent basic overview for the non-academic curious. I would recommended Liar, Soldier, Temptress, Spy, Heroines of Mercy Street and Louisa May Alcott's Hospital Sketches. Also, Anna Ella Carroll's propaganda and other women writers of the period. The list of women and sources to pursue.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    As others have noted, Cokie Roberts sets out to tell the under explored story of women living in Washington during the Civil War. Roberts retelling of this story seems largely focused not on the accomplishments of women during the war—advocating for causes, dealing with health and sanitation issues, working as spies, and working in the government. Rather, this is a disappointing, gossipy book about who wore which dress better at what event. Yes, this is taken from the diaries of women living in As others have noted, Cokie Roberts sets out to tell the under explored story of women living in Washington during the Civil War. Roberts retelling of this story seems largely focused not on the accomplishments of women during the war—advocating for causes, dealing with health and sanitation issues, working as spies, and working in the government. Rather, this is a disappointing, gossipy book about who wore which dress better at what event. Yes, this is taken from the diaries of women living in Washington during the war, and yes, rich bored women with lots of time on their hands are the sort of people who might keep detailed diaries, but delving into government records, official documents, and other sources would have shown women with much greater contributions and a wider diversity of voices. Instead, we got a bunch of high school cattiness. I understand some will praise any book addressing the lives of women during this period, and others may well enjoy learning about the social whirl (or lack thereof) of Washington during the war. But this just seemed like a big missed opportunity to me.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Peggie Ross

    As always when I read a book by Cokie Roberts, I thoroughly enjoyed it. She writes about compelling women in an extremely readable, pleasant manner. I learn something on every page and have fun doing it. Her journalistic integrity presents each of her topics with clarity and without bias, and in a book about the Civil War era, it is difficult not to appear to "take sides". Mrs. Roberts presents both positive and negative information about each of these women. The many quotes from their contempor As always when I read a book by Cokie Roberts, I thoroughly enjoyed it. She writes about compelling women in an extremely readable, pleasant manner. I learn something on every page and have fun doing it. Her journalistic integrity presents each of her topics with clarity and without bias, and in a book about the Civil War era, it is difficult not to appear to "take sides". Mrs. Roberts presents both positive and negative information about each of these women. The many quotes from their contemporaries and letters allows the reader to form personal opinions about these ladies but also encourages admiration of each of them. I have read several of her books and have it as definite TO DO LIST item to read all of her books. Keep them coming Cokie. I can never get my fill of your offerings.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    I wavered between 3 and 4 stars here. I go with 4 because it is important that stories of women like these are heard. I would have appreciated footnotes, but there is an extensive bibliography at the end. To be sure, this is mostly a story of women who are married/related to political men and how they wield their own power. There are stories of other women interlaced- Keckely, Truth, Dix, Alcott, but at its heart it is a story of the politically-connected women and how they shaped DC (and the co I wavered between 3 and 4 stars here. I go with 4 because it is important that stories of women like these are heard. I would have appreciated footnotes, but there is an extensive bibliography at the end. To be sure, this is mostly a story of women who are married/related to political men and how they wield their own power. There are stories of other women interlaced- Keckely, Truth, Dix, Alcott, but at its heart it is a story of the politically-connected women and how they shaped DC (and the country) in the darkest years of the country's history. I wouldn't recommend it to someone who doesn't have a decent grasp on the events leading up to the Civil War and its main events, but to someone who looks for deeper insight and to hear from the voice of women.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dara

    A book about some of the most influential women of the Civil War. I like the idea but I found it somewhat difficult to read. Roberts obviously researched extensively but there are so many facts and individual short stories that it didn't really flow into a easy-to-read story for me. I didn't get a chance to know one person before it was on to the next one... or three or more! I would have preferred a focus on fewer women. It was difficult to keep up with so many at once plus their husbands, brot A book about some of the most influential women of the Civil War. I like the idea but I found it somewhat difficult to read. Roberts obviously researched extensively but there are so many facts and individual short stories that it didn't really flow into a easy-to-read story for me. I didn't get a chance to know one person before it was on to the next one... or three or more! I would have preferred a focus on fewer women. It was difficult to keep up with so many at once plus their husbands, brothers, and friends. Yet despite this, I still enjoyed many of the stories often told from the women's own journals or letters. I learned new things about women whose stories I am familiar with and was introduced to others whom I've never heard of before.

  18. 5 out of 5

    LynnDee (LynnDee's Library)

    This is was a really interesting look at the women of Washington, D.C. before and after the Civil War. Covering ladies who would go on to represent both the Union and the Confederacy, this book really showed how the Civil War changed lives, for better and for worse. It actually goes into more detail than what I was expecting about the Civil War, almost to the point to where I was like "can we get back to the ladies?". But I would still say this is a good historical perspective on women's role du This is was a really interesting look at the women of Washington, D.C. before and after the Civil War. Covering ladies who would go on to represent both the Union and the Confederacy, this book really showed how the Civil War changed lives, for better and for worse. It actually goes into more detail than what I was expecting about the Civil War, almost to the point to where I was like "can we get back to the ladies?". But I would still say this is a good historical perspective on women's role during the Civil War. Those interested in either the Civil War and/or women's history would enjoy this book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    Not an easy book to read, a little dry, but worth it. My biggest takeaways were that women were much more involved in the Civil War than I had imagined and that politics always have been nasty and probably always will be. Also collected some new historical heroes.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    loved this book! so many more women I need to know more about! ❤❤

  21. 4 out of 5

    Susan O

    Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts tells the story of the Civil War through the eyes of the women living in Washington. Regardless of the side they were on their lives were dramatically changed. Many of the names are familiar such as Mary Lincoln, Varina Davis, and Clara Barton, but many I was unfamiliar with such as Sara Pryor, Lois Adams, and Elizabeth "Lizzie" Lee Blair. There were rivalries between women in Washington prior to the war, but al Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts tells the story of the Civil War through the eyes of the women living in Washington. Regardless of the side they were on their lives were dramatically changed. Many of the names are familiar such as Mary Lincoln, Varina Davis, and Clara Barton, but many I was unfamiliar with such as Sara Pryor, Lois Adams, and Elizabeth "Lizzie" Lee Blair. There were rivalries between women in Washington prior to the war, but also many friends who would be torn apart because of opposing views. Or sometimes just because their husbands or fathers were on opposite political sides. I found the rivalry between Kate Chase Sprague, daughter of Salmon P. Chase, and Mary Lincoln particularly interesting. Kate was very ambitious for her father. He had run against Lincoln in 1860, but took a position as Lincoln's Secretary of Treasury. Kate was considered one of the most beautiful and intelligent women in Washington and had plenty of things to say about politics and about Mary Lincoln. Initially, much of the social life continued in the capital until resources became scarce, but Kate did her part for the men in the army camps as well. But Kate wasn't the only woman campaigning; Jessie Frémont was just as ambitious for her husband John C. Frémont. Jessie was an outspoken opponent of slavery and Lincoln was never radical enough for her. Of course, John had been the Republican candidate in 1856 and passed over for Lincoln in 1860, and was dismissed from his position in the army for subordination. Neither of these facts endeared the Lincolns to Jessie. The relationships weren't all rivalries, however, many friends were separated because of the opposing politics of the men in the family. Some of them kept in touch when they were able to get mail through the lines, or at least receive news of friends when people passed through the city. Life changed drastically, especially for southern women. Sara Agnes Pryor was the wife of Confederate General Roger A. Prior. Roberts follows her as she leaves Washington and is forced to move from place to place because of fighting. She is forced to leave 2 of her 5 children with relatives, and with 3 little boys to care for gives birth in a "primitive house" abandoned by one of her brother-in-law's workers. While Richmond is still the capital there is a form of society with engagements, so Sara cuts up her good clothes to make articles that she could sell to those who still had money. She made hats, lace collars, and gloves out of her husband's good coat. All this to raise $1300 to buy a barrel of flour. Roger was taken captive and like many other women, she worked to have him released. After the war, Roger went to New York to try to earn a living, leaving Sara to care for the children. It was two long years before they were reunited. In the mean time, the Washington Evening Star reported that "Mrs. Roger A. Pryor comes up regularly to our commissary at Petersburg to draw rations designated for the poor of the city." Using newspaper articles, government records, letters and diaries, Roberts chronicles the changes that occur in the city itself. At the start of the war, the population was only about 40,000 people. This grew by over 60,000 as the town became a Union army camp with wounded soldiers and eventually newly freed slaves. The women were largely responsible for taking care of these people. They organized relief efforts, nursing, care of orphans, and "contraband camps" for freedmen. Some of the women who came to prominence in these efforts were Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix, and Elizabeth Keckley.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Yaaresse

    This book picks up where Roberts' Ladies of Liberty left off, taking us through to the transition between the inept and generally monotone Johnson Administration and the more popular (at least then) if ethically-challenged Grant Administration. It's an interesting choice since most writers choose to end books about this era with a nation in mourning for Lincoln and skip the awkwardness of the whole Johnson mess. This book is about the women behind, beside, and sometimes in front of and dragging This book picks up where Roberts' Ladies of Liberty left off, taking us through to the transition between the inept and generally monotone Johnson Administration and the more popular (at least then) if ethically-challenged Grant Administration. It's an interesting choice since most writers choose to end books about this era with a nation in mourning for Lincoln and skip the awkwardness of the whole Johnson mess. This book is about the women behind, beside, and sometimes in front of and dragging along, the men who made it into the history books. Some of the names are familiar from being mentioned in passing during our white male intensive school histories (e.g. Dorthea Dix, Clara Barton, Soujourner Truth, Mary Todd), while others are more obscure (e.g. Anna Ella Carroll, Jessie Fremont, Jane Swisshelm). Roberts, as always, has done her research, and she presents well-known events of the mid-1800s from the women's point of view with information gathered from their letters, diaries, and newspaper reports. My opinion of this book is about the same as I held for its predecessor, although I think this followup started out slower and was a little more difficult to follow during the 1860s as Roberts attempted to handle the complications of social networks split by war and geography. Frankly, I've never thought much about Valina Davis or Virginia Clay and never know (or had forgotten) that their husbands had been accused (falsely) of masterminding Lincoln's assassination, so I feel I filled in some gaps in my 19th century history while also being entertained.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mfbirkett

    This book was a Mother's Day gift from daughter Anne. It has taken me about a month to read it. I have read other books to take a rest of this one. Capitol Dames is not an easy read. It requires a great deal of thought. Roberts has done a meticulous job of researching the lives and roles that the women of the Union and Confederacy, including the First Ladies Mary Lincoln and Varina Davis. This is a very thorough study of literary, political, and activist women along with their husbands and other This book was a Mother's Day gift from daughter Anne. It has taken me about a month to read it. I have read other books to take a rest of this one. Capitol Dames is not an easy read. It requires a great deal of thought. Roberts has done a meticulous job of researching the lives and roles that the women of the Union and Confederacy, including the First Ladies Mary Lincoln and Varina Davis. This is a very thorough study of literary, political, and activist women along with their husbands and other male counterparts. My study of this era of American history was shamefully deficient. The women described in this book were bright, ambitious (often for their husbands' futures), brave, and outspoken. Roberts's book has completed my education on women during this turbulent and often desperate period of American history when the fate of our nation rested with military men fighting the war and the women who carried on by treating the wounded and sick raising their families, and moving on with the hope that the side they supported would prevail. There is no doubt that women triumph after the bleakest of times to as Lincoln said, "bind up the nation's wounds" and emerge stronger with a revitalized sense of purpose.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Linda C

    Similar to her Founding Mothers, Roberts follows a group of women before, during, and after the Civil War. The women are wives and daughters of politicians and military men, movers in Society, and professional women who contributed to and lived through a major time in our history. Some names are familiar, ie Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix, Mary Todd Lincoln and Dolly Madison; some have familiar surnames, ie, Chase, Adams, Davis, and Fremont; and some were new to me. I enjoyed learning about them and Similar to her Founding Mothers, Roberts follows a group of women before, during, and after the Civil War. The women are wives and daughters of politicians and military men, movers in Society, and professional women who contributed to and lived through a major time in our history. Some names are familiar, ie Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix, Mary Todd Lincoln and Dolly Madison; some have familiar surnames, ie, Chase, Adams, Davis, and Fremont; and some were new to me. I enjoyed learning about them and what they experienced and tried to influence. Each book I read about this period presents different perspectives on the trials and events of that time, broadening my own understanding. However, I found this book slightly disjointed. I think I would rather have had fewer main 'characters' telling the story. I often felt I had lost contact with some as they left the city and were dropped, then becoming a sort of footnote. There is a short summary on many of the women at the end telling what happened to them later, but I felt the book left me dissatisfied. I hope to read something more on some of these women at a later time.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    Cokie Roberts is my new favorite author. A history book about women written by a woman? Sold. I learned so much about the women of the Civil War from listening to this book. Where are the statues and monuments for these women? Why did I grow up only hearing about the men from this era? Clara Barton and Elizabeth Keckley were my two favorites. Kate Chase Sprague was so easy to dislike. I highly recommend this book!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn Smith

    Cokie Roberts never disappoints, but this book is especially good. The vignettes of these "behind-the-scenes" women of Civil War-era Washington DC are masterfully woven together into an engaging story. Better than a good read, it's a great listen, with the author reading her book to you. The epilogue, is as good as the rest of the book, especially Ms Roberts' reflections on her own family history.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Susan Beecher

    Very interesting and well-written non-fiction book about a number of different women who were involved publicly and behind the scenes in the political events in Washington D.C. around the time of the Civil War. The author quotes from the womens' letters, diaries and newspaper articles from the time. Highly recommend.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    I've read a lot of Civil War and Presidential history, but I learned new stories here. Really enjoyed the fresh approach of looking at events through women's eyes. Lots of in-depth research in letters and government archives is woven skillfully into the narrative. I listened to this on audio, with the author narrating, which was a great.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Klempner

    Wonderful and insightful book on the women of Washington before, during and directly after the Civil War. It has now spurred me on to read more about these dynamic and amazing women! A must read for Civil War buffs too as it provides a unique window into the world of politics on both sides through the women who lived during those times.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    a little harder for me to follow as i was not as familiar with all the family names and politicians. Roberts again provides a,different perspective to history, introducing the audience to many different players and people.

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