NEW KNOXVILLE — Rita Thalen, a retired naturalist, taught and performed at the United Methodist Church in New Knoxville Tuesday night in a presentation on how the Civil War affected women.
She said the Civil War was a time period when states were so independent that imposing a national day for Thanksgiving was considered an infringement on states’ rights. For women, immediately pre-war there was a “cult of domesticity” Thalen said, that encouraged women to think of the home as their primary life’s work, and the domain in which they provided a haven for men who were increasingly going out into the world for their work rather than work at home on the farm.
The Civil War changed that as the call for volunteers took men from their homes for a war they originally thought would be short, but turned into years. Meanwhile, the women had to plant, harvest or work to earn money for their families.
In this area of Ohio, the war was actually good for many families who made money supplying food for troops, horses and boarding.
Women were involved in the war, too, first by rolling bandages and knitting socks to send to the front. Later, thousands of women were paid as nurses and as sanitary workers who were hired to fix the problems of “bad cookery and bad hygiene,” Thalen said.
When the advertisement for those women went out, they said they sought motherly women more than 30-years-old who were plain looking and wouldn’t attract the soldiers.
A few women actually cross-dressed to enter the war as men, not being found out until injuries gave them away. Some fought for long enough to earn post-war soldiers’ benefits.
Women also worked as smugglers, bring supplies and ammunition to troops under their voluminous hoop skirts. Others listened and used their wiles as spies,” Thalen said.
Thalen performed in the character of a Lima boardinghouse owner Jane McGuire, a historical figure who sold her farm after her husband died to run the boardinghouse, and whose four sons were soldiers in the war.
Lima in 1863, she said, had a little less than 2,000 people, with forestry as the major industry. The canal was already losing money and the railroads were beginning to flourish.
The event is part of a Lincoln exhibit on display in Wapakoneta through Oct. 12.
“We’ve been pleased at the number and diversity of people who have come out (for Lincoln events,)” Auglaize County Historical Society Director Rachel Barber said.