Women’s Role in the Civil War

This Smithsonian lesson plan focuses on the role of women during the Civil War, focusing on the roles of spy, nurse, and vivandiere. Background information is given for each, as well as an example of a dress worn by a figure in each role. The goal is for students to understand each role through the clothing worn by women, including planned activities surrounding hands-on experience with fabrics of the time. The lesson plan includes background information on the roles of spy, nurse, and vivandiere.

Source Smithsonian National Museum of American History
Dates and Eras 1861-1865
Themes Women, Spies, Medical, Homefront


Suggested Questions

  1. Why do you think specific clothing was so important to vivandieres, nurses, and Confederate spies in the Civil War? Explain why you think or don’t think it was the same for men.
  2. Why do you think it was important for women to be there to support the troops?
  3. Give three reasons why you think many women volunteered to help with the war effort.

Suggested Activities

  1. Have students imagine themselves in one of these roles. Then, have students write a letter home, or a paragraph or journal entry describing the struggles and benefits of the role they have chosen entry describing the struggles and/or benefits of the role they have chosen.
  2. Have students design an outfit for women of these roles. Then, have students explain what elements of dress they have chosen, what purpose they serve, and why they have chosen to add them.
  3. Have students read over the two links about Vivandieres and Belle Boyd. Then have students compare/contrast the role of nurse and vivandiere or spy.