LSU Libraries Special Collections Exhibition to Feature Civil War-era Letters and Diaries
BATON ROUGE – Beginning Dec. 6 and running through April 30, 2011, LSU Libraries Special Collections will present the exhibition “The Dear Ones at Home: Women’s Letters and Diaries of the Civil War Era,” at Hill Memorial Library.
Marking the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, which started April 12, 1861, the exhibition explores the variety of women’s experiences during the war, and its impact on their worlds.
Drawing on the rich manuscript holdings of the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, “The Dear Ones at Home” reveals what life was like on the home front, as women as well as men mobilized for the war. The exhibition displays photographs from the collections, including a daguerreotype of Varina Howell Davis, as well as illustrations from Harper’s Weekly.
Letters and diaries written by women at the time show how, as nurses and home front organizers, they supported or hindered the Confederate effort. As sweethearts and wives, they used their powers of affection to compel or dissuade men to serve.
For example, on April 14, 1862, Amelia Faulkner of Faulkland Plantation in Louisiana wrote to her friend, Henrietta Lauzin of Baton Rouge, that “girls ought to have nothing but soldiers for their beaux and if all girls thought as we do, there would be more companies leave this state.” But that same year, Mary Pugh of Lafourche Parish wrote to her husband, Richard, “you have done enough now to satisfy yourself and everyone else, so come now, if only for the sake of your little wife.”
Documents included in the exhibit also show how women faced the perils of battle and occupation. For example, in a letter to a female friend, J. Young Sanders Jr., wrote, “My gentle friend, never come in contact with the enemy’s brutal soldiering, if it is avoidable… but flee them as you would a hideous pestilence. They wage war upon women and feeble old men.” Also, Ann Wilkinson Penrose’s diary records her fury when the Federals came to arrest her father in New Orleans: “My blood boiled, I felt possessed with fury… I made my way down as fast as I could with my crutches… I felt as if I could strike them to the ground.”
Additional items in the exhibit reflect women’s political attitudes and their reactions to the end of war and slavery.
Prepared by LSU Curator of Manuscripts Tara Laver and Exhibitions Coordinator Leah Jewett, the exhibition also explores how women responded and adjusted, successfully or unsuccessfully, to wartime changes in courtship and marriage; death and mourning; women’s work and gender roles; religious observance and faith; as well as race relations. Manuscript reminiscences of the war years and contemporary and modern published works of fiction and non-fiction are featured, including several antebellum pieces by African-American women writers.
Also on display is a complete set of prints from artist Edwin Forbes’s “Life Studies of the Great Army,” published in 1890. Forbes travelled with the Union army, sketching images of camp life as a special correspondent for the contemporary publication “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News.” After the war, he completed etchings based on his war-time sketches, compiling them for his work.
In association with the exhibition, as part of Women’s History Month, LSU Assistant Professor of History Alecia P. Long will hold a presentation titled “(Mis)Remembering General Order No. 28: Benjamin Butler, the Woman Order, and Historical Memory” at noon on March 2, 2011 in the Hill Memorial Library lecture hall.
Both the exhibition and lecture are free and open to the public.
Hill Memorial Library is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. When classes are in session, the library is open Tuesday evenings until 8 p.m.
For more information, visit the Special Collections’ Web site at www.lib.lsu.edu/special.
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