The Women of Fredericksburg Mobilize

From John Hennessy:

 Just a week after the Virginia convention declared Virginia’s secession, the women of Fredericksburg started mobilizing in anticipation of impending war. Women of the town’s most powerful families convened a meeting to form the “Mutual Aid and Soldier’s Relief Society.” The Society was ready, they declared to “cut and make any garment they may require, and to furnish many articles requisite for the sick and wounded.  Orders may be left with any one of the Directresses, and shall be promptly executed.  The Society also request of all friendly to the cause they represent, Donations of Yarn, Woollen Socks, Flannel, Calico, old Linen, &c. which may be sent to any one of the directresses.”

This was not an unusual step on Southern towns, but the resolutions passed by the leading women of Fredericksburg in forming the new society are worth reading. They are a vivid look at both the spirit of an aroused community and the social status of women at the time.  The resolutions were published in the Fredericksburg News, April 24, 1861.

We, the ladies of Fredericksburg, Falmouth, and their vicinities, tho’ hitherto silent observers, have not been uninterested spectators of the condition of our State and Nation, we firmly believe the course pursued by Virginia has been ever true and just, alike honorable to herself and others–and whereas whilst acting as mediator, the Olive Branch has been forcibly wrenched from her hand, and War made inevitable.

We here resolve.  1st, Whilst we deeply deplore the sad necessity of war, we will…cheerfully submit to any privations our men or rulers may direct


Juliet Neale, a founding member of the Relief Society in Fredericksburg. She would later gain some fame for her work at the Confederate hospital at Belvoir, in Spotsylvania County. Image courtesy Fredericksburg Area Museum

2nd. We will deny ourselves as far as possible all the luxeries [sic] of dress and table that our men may expend more for the defence of our homes and liberties, and for the comfort of those who may be called to peril their lives for the same; and that we will labor with our hands for this end.

3rd.  That our ornaments of house and person shall not be withheld, if needed, to promote the interests of our State and Nation, but shall be freely given up, as we prefer like the matron of old, when asked for our jewels, to point to our sons.

4th.  We will from this day forth, purchase no article that is not grown, manufactured, or imported into some Southern State, or that is not now in the possession of our merchants, milliners, &c.

5th.  Should our aid as nurses be needed at the Camp or Hospitals of our gallant defenders, we will glory in showing that it is not in England alone a “Florence Nightingale” may be found.

6th.  A the interruption of all business in our Town may be productive of suffering to many, we request the Benevolent Society to organize immediately and report to us the wants and conditions of the poor and sick who may be sufferers from this cause.

7th.  On every Thursday afternoon at five o’clock prayer meetings will be held through out the Town at places appointed to invoke for our State and cause the aid of Him without whose blessing nothing can succeed or prosper, and for the preservation of our Husbands, Brother, and Sons.

8th.  We invite all the Ladies of our State to correspond and co-operate with us in all our labors of love for the promotion of the safety and comfort of those around us, and of those who may be called to fight the battles of our State.

9th.  That for the furtherance or our efforts and labors we organize a society.

While we know much about the society’s founding, we know little of its work as the war progressed–or even if it continued to meet.

The women who constituted the Society were generally the the partners of some of the most powerful men in town. All were among the approximately one-third of Fredericksburg households that owned slaves. Sarah Alsop, wife of Joseph, the mother of diarist Lizzie–the family lived at what is today 1201 Princess Anne Street.

Virginia Knox, married to miller Thomas F. Knox. The Fredericksburg Area Museum has her portrait on display. The Knoxes lived in what is today the Kenmore Inn, across from the Alsops.

Juliet Neale, a divorcee famous for the constant presence of her turban, lived at what is today 307 Caroline Street.  She who would serve as a nurse at Belvoir, and become well known to Stonewall Jackson.

Mary Wallace, whose husband John was the town’s most prosperous physician.

Lucy Herndon, wife of Dr. Brodie S. Herndon. Perhaps the best-connected of all of Fredericksburg’s families, this node of the Herndon clan lived in what is today known as the Chimneys, at 623 Caroline.

Bettie Herndon Botts, Lucy and Brodie’s daughter. She was married to the town’s bookseller, Henry T. Botts.

Arabella Little, whose brothers William and Alexander were a lawyer and news editor, respectively. She lived in the Little House on Princess Anne Street–better known locally as the Charles Dick House.

Eliza S. Gordon, wife of William K. Gordon, the cashier at the Bank of Virginia, at the corner of Caroline and William.

Marion Eliza G. Jenifer Barton, the wife of attorney and judge William S. Barton–an officer in the 30th Virginia, and active in Confederate intelligence gathering in the Fredericksburg area.

Mary A. Sener, whose husband James was a master tinner and whose son would become a Congressman from Fredericksburg in the 1870s.

Mary B. Crouch, a widow who lived with her daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and H.H. Wallace, owners of Federal Hill.

Lucilla Bradley, whose husband James was a merchant of note who lived on Prince Edward Street.

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