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Women's Suffrage (Special Collections)

This research guide presents Special Collections material that demonstrates womens' fight for suffrage.

Civil War

sepia portrait of four unidentified women posing together.
Four unidentified women pose for a studio portrait in Knoxville in 1864.
(O. P. Temple Papers, MS.0021)

The Civil War was a turning point for many women who began to see themselves in a different light, and it marked a shift in the social and economic lives of women. As men left their homes and communities to fight, many women took up the work left behind. They began running their households and farms, conducting business activities, and performing other tasks that were traditionally done by men. These different and more public roles situated women with experiences that empowered them.

The war also offered women an opportunity to provide care and support in a more public way than they had historically. They labored to fundraise and provide healthcare, food, shelter, and more for soldiers and others impacted by the war's devastation. Many of these wartime efforts provided a foundation for stronger social movements and fights afterward.

Later, World War I would evoke a similar sentiment as women once again stepped in to take on roles traditionally held by men while also showcasing their patriotism. For women already involved in the suffrage movement, they hoped this war-related labor would be acknowledged with being granted the right to vote.

Diaries and letters written by women during the Civil War provide a glimpse into their lives during this transformative time:

spread from Eleanora Willauer's diary that she kept during the civil war
Pages from Eleanora Willauer's diary kept during the Civil War. (MS.2940)

Eleanora Willauer Diary, 1862-1869 (MS.2940)
Beginning in October 1862, Tennessee native and Confederate sympathizer Eleanora Willauer kept this diary and documented the world around her during the Civil War. 18 at the time of starting the diary, Eleanora lived with her family in Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee.
View Eleanora's diary in full here.

Elizabeth Baker Crozier Journal, 1863-1864 (MS.1048)
In her journal, Elizabeth Baker Crozier describes her experiences during the Siege of Knoxville in 1863. Although fighting inched closer to their property and her husband and eldest children had already fled, Elizabeth remained at her home in order to protect it. Her efforts failed and, as she writes about in her diary, her home was looted and burned by troops along with the homes of friends and neighbors. She eventually fled and reconnected with her family several months later, then returned to Knoxville to rebuild.

Mary Jane Johnson Reynolds Letters, 1864 (MS.0246)
While living with her parents in Loudon, Tennessee, Mary Jane Johnson Reynolds wrote these letters throughout 1864 to her husband who was serving with the Confederate Army.

Margaret Barton Crozier Ramsey Diary, 1864-1885 (MS.0322)
As staunch supporters and members of the Confederacy during the Civil War, the Ramsey family fled their Knoxville home before the arrival of Union troops in the area. Daughter Margaret Barton Crozier Ramsey kept this diary while the family lived in exile in North Carolina until after the war.

three sepia portraits of unidentified women, from around the time of the civil war.
Studio portraits of three unidentified women from around the time of the Civil War.
(Civil War-Era Cartes de Visite, MS.2484)