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There isn’t a wife in the world who has not taken the exact measure of her husband, weighed him and settled him in her own mind, and knows him as well as if she had ordered him after designs and specifications of her own… Charles Dudley Warner

Civil War wives : the lives and times of Angelina Grimke Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant  Carol Berkin  New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2009  Hardcover. 1st ed. xiv, 361 p. : ill., ports. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [317]-345) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

A broadside condemning the sale and keeping of slaves in the District of Columbia. The work was issued during the 1835-36 petition campaign, waged by moderate abolitionists led by Theodore Dwight Weld and buttressed by Quaker organizations, to have Congress abolish slavery in the capital. The text contains arguments for abolition and an accounting of atrocities of the system. At the top are two contrasting scenes: a view of the reading of the Declaration of Independence, captioned "The Land of the Free," with a scene of slaves being led past the capitol by an overseer, entitled "The Home of the Oppressed." Between them is a plan of Washington with insets of a suppliant slave (see "Am I Not a Man and a Brother?" no. 1837- ) and a fleeing slave with the legend "$200 Reward" and implements of slavery. On the next line are views of the jail in Alexandria, the jail in Washington with the "sale of a free citizen to pay his jail fees," and an interior of the Washington jail with imprisoned slave mother Fanny Jackson and her children. On the bottom level are an illustration of slaves in chains emerging from the slave house of J.W. Neal & Co. (left), a view of the Alexandria waterfront with a ship loading slaves (center), and a view of the slave establishment of Franklin & Armfield in Alexandria.

A broadside condemning the sale and keeping of slaves in the District of Columbia. The work was issued during the 1835-36 petition campaign, waged by moderate abolitionists led by Theodore Dwight Weld and buttressed by Quaker organizations, to have Congress abolish slavery in the capital. The text contains arguments for abolition and an accounting of atrocities of the system. At the top are two contrasting scenes: a view of the reading of the Declaration of Independence, captioned “The Land of the Free,” with a scene of slaves being led past the capitol by an overseer, entitled “The Home of the Oppressed.” Between them is a plan of Washington with insets of a suppliant slave (see “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” no. 1837- ) and a fleeing slave with the legend “$200 Reward” and implements of slavery. On the next line are views of the jail in Alexandria, the jail in Washington with the “sale of a free citizen to pay his jail fees,” and an interior of the Washington jail with imprisoned slave mother Fanny Jackson and her children. On the bottom level are an illustration of slaves in chains emerging from the slave house of J.W. Neal & Co. (left), a view of the Alexandria waterfront with a ship loading slaves (center), and a view of the slave establishment of Franklin & Armfield in Alexandria.

Here are the life stories of three women who connect us to our national past and provide windows onto a social and political landscape that is strangely familiar yet shockingly foreign.

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Berkin focuses on three “accidental heroes” who left behind sufficient records to allow their voices to be heard clearly and to allow us to see the world as they did. Though they held no political power themselves, all three had access to power and unique perspectives on events of their time.

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Angelina Grimke Weld, after a painful internal dialogue, renounced the values of her Southern family’s way of life and embraced the antislavery movement, but found her voice silenced by marriage to fellow reformer Theodore Weld.

Photo shows the Davis Family at Beauvoir, Mississippi, in 1884 or 1885 (l to r): Varina Howell Davis Hayes [Webb] (1878-1934), Margaret Davis Hayes, Lucy White Hayes [Young] (1882-1966), Jefferson Davis, unidentified servant, Varina Howell Davis, and Jefferson Davis Hayes (1884-1975), whose name was legally changed to Jefferson Hayes-Davis in 1890.

Photo shows the Davis Family at Beauvoir, Mississippi, in 1884 or 1885 (l to r): Varina Howell Davis Hayes [Webb] (1878-1934), Margaret Davis Hayes, Lucy White Hayes [Young] (1882-1966), Jefferson Davis, unidentified servant, Varina Howell Davis, and Jefferson Davis Hayes (1884-1975), whose name was legally changed to Jefferson Hayes-Davis in 1890.


Varina Howell Davis had an independent mind and spirit but incurred the disapproval of her husband, Jefferson Davis, when she would not behave as an obedient wife. Though ill-prepared and ill-suited for her role as First Lady of the Confederacy, she became an expert political lobbyist for her husband’s release from prison.

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Julia Dent Grant, the wife of Ulysses S. Grant, was a model of genteel domesticity who seemed content with the restrictions of marriage and motherhood, even though they led to alternating periods of fame and disgrace, wealth and poverty. Only late in life did she glimpse the price of dependency.

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Throughout, Berkin captures the tensions and animosities of the antebellum era and the disruptions, anxieties, and dislocations generated by the war and its aftermath.

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