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Life for women during Civil War wasn’t all ‘Gone with the Wind’

By Rachel Molenda, Staff writer

RIPLEY — Independence Day can be celebrated in any number of ways, but one group of re-enactors chose to do it by showing attendees of the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair in Ripley what life was like in Civil War camps.

One set of women in particular set out to show those with misconceptions about a Southern woman’s life what it was like for the majority of women there. Very few lived a “Gone With the Wind” plantation lifestyle, said Verna Kay Owens, of the Confederate Kanawha Artillery Battery D from St. Marys.

“Those were rare. Less than 1 percent of the South were actually plantations where people lived. The rest of it was 150-acre farms,” Owens said.

Owens and fellow re-enactors Barbara Voiers and Jody Haddox have researched a variety of perspectives of women’s roles in the war. Voiers was dressed as a soldier, a position that would have required greater disguise in the 1800s than it did on a cool Friday afternoon.

Women weren’t allowed to fight, Voiers said, which made the stakes much higher for those who managed to enlist.

“They had to really be good at what they did, because if they were discovered, they’d be sent home,” Voiers said.

Fairly true to the times, that history is alive in the encampment. The women are seldom allowed to fire the cannon, though Owens joked about a women-led revolt following a skirmish in the camp kitchen.

Once the war started, Owens said Southern women “did everything they could to keep their men on the frontlines,” from farming to performing childcare to making artillery. She said the war propelled many women forward because of those duties.

“I think that was the first thing that ever got the women out of the homes, and I don’t think after the war it was quite the same for the women, because they had been out of the home,” Owens said.

Owens said she believes men had to recognize what women were capable of after the war, and re-enacting has had a similar impact on her view, too. Owens and Haddox recalled the first time they cooked over a campfire.

“We thought we had really done something great, and our grandmothers would have done that and been doing five other things at the same time. We think we multitask? We don’t hold a candle,” Owens said.

“We have every modern convenience and have time for nothing.”

“I just don’t know how they got it all done,” Haddox said.

Haddox said she re-enacts because she wants people to understand “history and heritage.” Owens added she’s not concerned about young people getting interested specifically in the Civil War, but would rather see them take a general interest in history.

“I don’t care so much if kids walk away wanting to study the Civil War, as much as wanting to learn more about history, about what our ancestors have done, where they came from, what they did,” Owens said.

The Mountain State Art & Craft Fair continues today with West Virginia Heritage Day at Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley. Gates will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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