The D.C Times Weekly
Life on the Union homefront
By Dante A. Piccolino
This war is extremely good for production values here in the north because coal and iron reached their all-time highest in production. Northern manufacturers grew so profitable that many companies doubled or tripled their money. The newly rich built exquisite homes and spent their money extravagantly on carriages, silk clothing and jewelry. There was a great deal of public outrage that such conduct was unbecoming or even immoral in time of war. What made this lifestyle even more “offensive” was that workers’ salaries shrank in real terms due to inflation. The price of beef, rice and sugar doubled from their pre-war levels, yet salaries rose only half as fast as prices while companies of all kinds made record profits. Women’s roles changed dramatically during the war. Before the war, women of the North already had been prominent in a number of industries, including textiles, clothing and shoe-making. With the issues, there were great increases in employment of women in occupations ranging from government civil service to agricultural field work. As men entered the Union army, women’s proportion of the manufacturing work force went from one-fourth to one-third. At home, women organized over one thousand soldiers’ aid societies, rolled bandages for use in hospitals and raised millions of dollars to aid injured troops. Nowhere was their impact felt greater than in field hospitals close to the front. Dorothea Dix, who led the effort to provide state hospitals for the mentally ill, was named the first superintendent of women nurses and set rigid guidelines. Clara Barton, working in a patent office, became one of the most admired nurses during the war and, as a result of her experiences, formed the American Red Cross. As you can see there was a couple of downfalls but in the end it was mostly beneficial than it wasn’t.