Maryland Women's Activism: Southern Sympathizers and Loyal Ladies

As residents of a slaveholding state bordering the Confederacy, Marylanders had complex allegiances. Though they could not enlist, women championed the causes of both North and South through political activism, charitable organizations, and fundraising.

An "Appeal for Peace" from the "Women of Maryland" to Union army General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, dated July 4, 1861, was a plea to end the conflict before much bloodshed occurred. Ironically, this appeal was dated the same day President Lincoln secured a twenty five percent Congressional increase in both funding and troop levels in support of the Union cause. Though they "claim, to know no distinction in party broils," the "Women of Maryland" who authored this broadside displayed clear Confederate sympathies in their appeal. By exalting the "good and noble" Confederate General Robert E. Lee, as well as P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston, the "Women of Maryland" championed peace as a way to preserve states' rights and to uphold a non-coercion policy for those states that wished to secede.

Clearly, the "Appeal for Peace" broadside represented the views of only some of the "Women of Maryland," as this 1862 letter written by the Loyal Ladies of Cambridge, Dorchester County, Maryland, indicates. Addressed to Frederick Law Olmsted, Executive Secretary of the United States Sanitary Commission, the letter accompanied items for the "sick and wounded soldiers," including clothing, bedding, and soap. Northern women were involved with the work of the United States Sanitary Commission, which President Lincoln created in 1861 to coordinate volunteer efforts, especially in assisting sick and wounded soldiers, during the war. Local "Loyal Ladies" groups arose throughout the North soon after war broke out, and in 1863, the Women's National Loyal League was formed to unify women's war efforts, promote the abolition of slavery, and later, to agitate for women's rights.

Interpreting primary sources often requires researchers to read between the lines. Upon first glance, the "Appeal for Peace" may seem as though it is just that - a plea to avert the bloodshed of war. Reading the document more closely, however, reveals the authors' strong allegiances to the Southern cause. Understanding the historical events and figures that the authors refer to provides the key to understanding the authors' true intentions. Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and other Confederate leaders are celebrated in this document. The authors' wish for peace is a call to support the Confederacy and states' rights, including the perpetuation of slavery.

Appeal for Peace broadside
"Women of Maryland" Broadside, 1861

"Appeal for Peace" broadside from the "Women of Maryland," July 4, 1861. The wording of the broadside indicates that these women had strong Confederate sympathies. Maryland Manuscripts Collection, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

Letter to Frederick Law Olmsted
Correspondence with Frederick Law Olmsted, 1862

Loyal Ladies of Cambridge letter to Frederick Law Olmsted, March 10, 1862, with a list of items for solider relief. Maryland Manuscripts Collection, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

Women and their families visiting
the State Fair for U.S. Soldier Relief Baltimore Sanitary Fair Illustration, 1864

This newspaper illustration depicts women and their families visiting the State Fair for U.S. Soldier Relief - popularly known as the Baltimore Sanitary Fair - in 1864. Throughout the Union, women organized sanitary fairs to raise money and gather materials for the Union cause. Maryland women organized a successful fair in Baltimore in 1864. While the fair's primary goal was to raise money for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, it was also a public statement that the residents of Maryland were loyal to the Union. President Lincoln, acknowledging the importance of demonstrating Maryland's allegiance, spoke at the fair's opening. After the war, the Ladies' Southern Relief Association held a similar fair in Baltimore in April 1866 to assist Maryland and other southern states in recovering from the devastation of war. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 14, 1864, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

Appeal for Peace broadside
U.S. Christian Commission Map, 1864

Map showing the locations of the Hospitals and other places which the Delegates of the Maryland Committee of the U.S. Christian Commission have labored" from the Third Report of the Committee of Maryland, United States Christian Commission. Rare Books Collection, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries.

Ladies'Southern Relief Association Report
Ladies' Southern Relief Association Report, 1866

Maryland women with Confederate loyalties also held fundraising fairs. In this post-war report from the Ladies' Southern Relief Association of Maryland, organizers of a Baltimore fair discuss Maryland's relative "wealth" compared to that of the devastated South. Rare Books Collection, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries. Note: A full digital version of this report will be made available in the future.

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