In these moving stories if Angelina Grimké Weld, wife of abolitionist Theodore Weld, Varina Howell Davis, wife of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, and Julia Dent grant, wife of Ulysses S. Grant, Carol Berkin reveals how women understood the cataclysmic events of their day. Their stories, taken together, help reconstruct the era of the Civil War with a greater depth and complexity by adding women's experiences and voices to their male counterparts.
The wives of abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld, Confederacy president Jefferson Davis and Union commander Ulysses S. Grant don't fit comfortably between one book's covers. Though they lived during roughly the same period, they differed in disposition, situation aspiration and gifts. But Baruch College and CUNY Graduate Center historian Berkin (Revolutionary Mothers) isn't out to create a group portrait. Instead, she wants to catch the realities of three "privileged, yet restricted" women and thus to reveal how even the most fortunate of wives at least fortunate in the importance and celebrity of their husbands struggled, not always successfully, to face down the difficulties of their sex. In this, Berkin is entirely successful. Her engaging prose and sympathetic posture bring the three women vividly to life. Weld, Davis and Grant were unrepresentative in their marriages but typical in their struggles to use their sharp minds to break free of the era's restrictions on married women. Even if they weren't, contrary to Berkin's hackneyed word, "heroes," they pointed the way to what women's lives might and eventually did become. 6 photos.