Women have always served ~
~by National Secretary Kathy Bower
During the American Civil War, men left their homes and families for four or more years, often unable to send funds home regularly. Women and children kept the farms and shops and eked out a meager existence as best as they could.
But they also took on the task of supporting the men with much-needed supplies and items of comfort. The women knitted socks and pieced quilts to send to their loved-ones. Some hosted fund-raisers and set about establishing the “Sanitation Commission” – to ensure proper medical care could be available for the soldiers.
Some women followed their men and provided cooking and washing and what support they could as long as they could. Some women held raffles and bake sales and ladies’ teas to collect funds that might buy better weapons and ammunition or shoes and clothes. Some women spent days working in the fields and nights cutting strips of fabric to roll into bandages.
And when the war was finally over, and the men made their way back home again, the women – as surely as the men, were suddenly placed into the roles they had set aside for some years. Some were reluctant to give up the controls they’d been granted while their men were gone. It was difficult to adjust for both the battle-weary men who’d seen such gore as no American had for many decades, as well as for the weathered and worn women who’d scrimped together enough to keep the home or farm from being lost.
Just as the soldiers slowly began to notice that they suffered with more than lost limbs or wounds, and one-by-one started to find themselves in need of commiseration with one another, the women too found their post-war readjustment very difficult.
While the men began to meet regularly the women learned they too felt better by having common goals with their sisters, – fellow wives, widows, mothers, and daughters. In very short order the support groups the men loosely developed became officially recognized as The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). It took a bit longer for the auxiliary of the G.A.R. – the Woman’s Relief Corps to become official.
But these women had spearheaded marathon efforts to create the Sanitation Commissions and Hospitals, recruit nurses, raise funds for supplies and kept the home fires burning during the War. Now they eagerly stepped into post-war efforts to help one-another. They saw the women that had served as nurses return to have no home, no families, no pensions from the government. They saw the widows and orphans struggle year in and year out with little to no government support. The saw their own brothers, fathers, sons and husbands work through the darkest of moods and most tragic memories.
These women began to informally gather in support groups much as they saw the men had done. As the Union veterans one-by-one passed away, the G.A.R. slowly faded. The men realized their legacy would be forever lost without an auxiliary force to pick up as they left. And so the Woman’s Relief Corps was sanctioned by the G.A.R. Unique to the WRC is that no familial relationship or tracing of family connection was then nor is now necessary. Any woman of good character who would be willing to keep the mission going was and remains welcome.
For over 135 years the Woman’s Relief Corps has worked diligently to preserve the historically significant items and places symbolizing the American Civil War. But we also honor soldiers and veterans of all wars. We believe that all people should be granted the dignity of equality. We hope you will consider joining us – and helping us preserve the rich history and stories and artifacts that were left behind by brave men and women who worked to preserve the Union. We hope you will consider joining us!
Members can meet with their Corps or remain “Members-at-large.” If you have visited a shut-in, helped a veteran, sent out holiday greetings to soldiers far from home, visited graves and placed flags and flowers upon them – you’ve already done the things we treasure and encourage each other to do. If you find the history of Women’s Suffrage movement interesting, and cherish the American flag, and believe all should be granted equal rights – you already meet many of the basic tenets of our organization. We invite you to join along with us and be a part of a rich history, and faithful, loving, and loyal organization dedicated to perpetuating the best of American values.