Mother’s Day didn’t begin until 1908, of course, but this week in May is a good occasion to note the work of mothers, daughters, sisters and wives on the home front during the Civil War.
The Eastern Clarion in Paulding, Mississippi, reported in 1861 on how the women in the Poore brothers’ homeland organized themselves to contribute to the Confederate war effort.
The newspaper recorded that on Aug. 16, 1861, about 41 women from Oak Bowery and Pleasant Hill in Jasper County gathered at the Oak Bowery Masonic Hall to form the Garlandsville Soldiers’ Aid Society.
A number of men also attended the meeting because it was the day set for a dinner for a Confederate company, most likely the Jasper Defenders under 28-year-old Capt. R.K. Clayton. Those in attendance had a lively time as a band played and the men drilled for the benefit of the women.
During their meeting, the women selected Mrs. S. Calhoun as president, Mrs. A.M. Callum as 1st vice president, Mrs. Patterson, 2nd vice president and Mrs. Collins, 3rd vice president. They selected Miss M.B. (or A.B.) Jones as secretary and Miss M. Calhoun as assistant secretary. They appointed Mrs. Windham and Mrs. Dempsey treasurers of the society.
The society members appointed a committee of six, consisting of Misses Susan Clayton, Ree Lindsey, Catherine McCallum, Mary A. Pierce, Racheal Hartfield and Mary J. Dempsey to solicit donations.
Over the next six weeks, the women bought supplies and made more than “145 pairs of pants, 100 pairs of drawers of the very best woolen goods, 100 shirts, 100 pairs of socks” and 75 blankets. They also donated 5 coverlids, 100 towels and 10 comforters. The women were busily sewing some 600 yards of material for coats and lining and had obtained the needed buttons and thread. They also had obtained many small articles for the benefit of the soldiers and some leather for shoes.
This was early in the war and the women were still doing what could be called “women’s work.” Later, as more men and boys were called away to the war, women took on more of the jobs traditionally performed by men. For example, Southern men generally considered women too delicate to be exposed to the horrors of battlefield injuries. But women became nurses, some of them became quite well known.
Hard work or even men’s work was nothing new for the women of the Poore family. Take, for example, the matriarch of the Poore family, Sarah Hearne Poore. She had been born in 1775 on the eve of the American Revolution. The exact year she died is not known, but it appears to have been sometime during the Civil War.
Sarah is an example of a woman who found border life to her liking. No seeker of settled towns or refined cities, she lived her entire life on the frontiers of the American South, moving as the boundaries of the new nation moved. Also remarkable is the fact that she spent more of her life as a single woman or as a widow than as a married woman. She married in 1810 and was widowed perhaps before 1825, spending just 15 years as a married woman.
One class of historians asserts that most women of her time lived on the frontier only because their husbands insisted they do so. They draw an image of “the frightened, tearful woman wrenched from home and hearth and dragged off into the terrible West.” This class of historians claims that frontier women lived, hard lonely lives made harder and shorter by frequent childbirth.
Sarah Hearne Poore’s life, and probably the lives of many other frontier women like her, doesn’t fit this bleak view. Sarah had a husband for only a short time, although there were other male relatives in her life, such as her father, brothers and sons. She had control of her own estate and so had choices other than those the men in her life might have wanted to make for her.
She may have lived a life that was harder than that of women in settled towns. But it was neither lonely nor short. She deserves to be honored this week as much as any other mother.