As in earlier American conflicts, women were popular subjects of political cartoons during the Civil War. Artists in the Union and the Confederacy featured women prominently in their work to represent the general civilian experience of the war. Women were also featured to explore how the war was breaking down antebellum gender expectations.
These two cartoons are from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Both deal with women’s roles in promoting enlistment in the Union and Confederate armies, but they have very different tones.
“Sowing and Reaping,” published in May 1863, mocks Southern women for encouraging men to join the Confederate Army. In the “sowing” panel, idealized drawings of genteel Southern women are shown waving their men off to war, in full support of their enlistment. In the “reaping” panel, the same women have been ravaged by the war. Dressed in rags and emaciated, they are shown fighting in the streets for bread. This second panel was based on a real event that took place in Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital, on April 1, 1863. With hungry families at home, the women of Richmond rioted to protest food shortages. Their behavior was viewed as appalling and inappropriate. This cartoon lays some blame for the food shortage on the women themselves because they promoted participation in the war.
“The Art of Inspiring Courage” was published in October 1863, six months after “Sowing and Reaping.” Published at a time when Union enlistment was falling, and people were rioting to protest the new draft, it offers humorous advice about how Union women can pressure men into joining the Union Army. It is fascinating that this cartoon was published after “Sowing and Reaping.” Evidently the staff of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper did not believe Union women would suffer the same dire consequences as their Confederate counterparts.