Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Mark M. Smith


This dissertation examines the writings and literature surrounding elite, white South Carolina women from 1859 and 1861 to trace their increasing political consciousnesses surrounding their state’s secession and the threat of civil war. Their diaries and letters reveal that though these women and their families were staunch supporters of South Carolina’s secession, women reacted to their new circumstances with fears and misgivings that their male counterparts would not, or could not, express. Elite women harnessed familiar and religious concepts to express political hopes and fears, creating a socially acceptable outlet through which to discuss current electoral politics previously considered improper. In tracing events from John Brown’s Raid to First Bull Run, this dissertation argues that planter women were astute political spectators and analysts, and uses emotions history and literary analysis to shine a light on their political nature in a way that many secession studies, focused on voting men, do not. It examines women as writers, noting their increasing preoccupation with national events in their diaries and letters and how they processed these changes. They did not let the “political excitement” completely overtake their writings until Lincoln’s election in November 1860, after which they blended enthusiastic support for South Carolina with religious fears of a world-ending civil war. This dissertation provides a much-needed bridge between antebellum and Civil War studies and insists that women’s thoughts and voices are instrumental in understanding the political, economic, and social transitions of 1860.


© 2020, Melissa DeVelvis

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