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Where are the Women:
Examples from the LVA Collections



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Living in adjacent western Virginia counties, Susan Miranda Holt Berlin (Upshur County) and Isabella Neeson Woods (Barbour County) each were married to members of the Virginia Convention of 1861. Berlin's brother was married to Woods's sister-in-law. During the convention, which met in Richmond from the middle of February through the end of April 1861, each woman exchanged letters with her absent husband. Following the secession of Virginia, both husbands supported the Confederacy and spent many months in eastern Virginia, while the women and their families remained at home in the west.

From their letters we learn much about how white women managed their families and finances; how they dealt with labor shortages when slaves quit working or ran away; about the deaths of Woods's son and of Berlin's brother; how both women, whose husbands were elected to the convention as Unionists but eventually signed the Ordnance of Secession, demonstrated their loyalty to the Confederacy even as the Union Army occupied their home towns; how families divided over the war; how family members pulled together to support one another during the crisis; how children reacted to the absence of their fathers; how the women dealt with fear and loneliness; how they contrived surreptitious means to get letters through the lines; how they made their dramatic rides over the mountains in 1862 to reunite with their husbands.

The dramatic events of the secession crisis and the beginning of the Civil War enabled historians to know Berlin and Woods, who probably would have remained anonymous to history. In their letters, these anonymous women teach us about their families and by analogy about the experiences of many other women and families.

Samuel Woods and His Family. Ruth Woods Dayton. Charleston: Hood-Hiserman-Brodhag Company, 1939. Bound volume. Library of Virginia.