In Capital Dames, Cokie Roberts explores the experiences, influence, and contributions of women living in Washington, D.C. around the time of the Civil War. Roberts uses newspaper articles, government records, and private letters and diaries – many previously unpublished – to recreate the lives of women living in the Capital between 1848 and 1868. It was a pleasure to learn more about these remarkable women and follow their journeys as activists, nurses, society belles, and shrewd political wives. Although the Civil War brought hardship and deprivation for many of these women, the war also rapidly expanded the federal bureaucracy and opened new job opportunities for many. I was amazed to discover that many women were actively involved in politics during this time – on both sides of the conflict.
Although is book is packed with details and runs to 400 pages, it’s worth the effort. I gained a deeper understanding of the lives of women already well known, including Mary Todd Lincoln and Varina Davis. I also learned a great deal about other remarkable ladies like Kate Chase Sprague, who fiercely campaigned for her father’s political career while battling Mary Lincoln for control of Washington’s social sphere. It was truly a privilege to peer into the inner lives of these women, richly illustrated by Roberts with quotes from personal letters and diaries. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Civil War history and women’s history.
Review Submitted by: Kaitlyn Grigsby
Rating: Highly Recommended