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Aberration of MindSuicide and Suffering in the Civil War-Era South$
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Diane Miller Sommerville

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469643304

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469643304.001.0001

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All Is Dark before Me

All Is Dark before Me

Confederate Women and the Postwar Landscape of Suffering and Suicide

(p.197) Chapter 7 All Is Dark before Me
Aberration of Mind

Diane Miller Sommerville

University of North Carolina Press

Surprisingly little attention has been paid to white women after the Civil War. This chapter explores the emotional and material suffering of white women in the postbellum South. Scholarly and popular treatments of Confederate women after the war, bolstered by Lost Cause efforts, have emphasized their resiliency and fortitude, which has obscured the extent to which many southern white women struggled in the wake of postwar economic disaster and personal tragedies tied to the war. They faced numerous challenges, which exacted a huge psychological toll from many women. Debt, high taxes, loss of property, dislocation, altercations with ex-slaves, troubled marriages, and grief contributed to profound individual suffering that hampered survival, reconstitution of families, and the reconstruction of communities. Wives of disabled or distressed veterans struggled with domestic abuse or discord and destitution. War widows without means who were left to support families adopted desperate strategies to survive including coresidence with other kin or even strangers, which disrupted and relocated families inducing stress. The psychological well-being of the region’s white women suffered in the face of prolonged hardship and frequently resulted in mental illness requiring institutionalization, substance abuse, or in suicidal ideation or behavior.

Keywords:   Lost Cause, suicide, postpartum disorders, ex-Confederate women, survival, depression, widows, grief, domestic abuse

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