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Faculty Book: Carol Berkin

Carol Berkin

Civil War Wives: The Lives and Times of Angelina Grimké Weld, Varina Howell Davis, and Julia Dent Grant
(Knopf, 2009)

bookcoverCelebrated historian Carol Berkin offers a unique understanding of the tumultuous social and political landscape surrounding the lives of three “accidental heroes”—women whose marriages provided them with position and influence. Drawing on private and public records, Berkin shows us how Angelina Grimké Weld bravely renounced her Southern family’s values when she embraced the anti-slavery movement, only to be silenced within her marriage to fellow reformer Theodore Weld. In Varina Howell Davis, Berkin shows a woman of independent mind and spirit who incurred the disapproval of her husband, Jefferson Davis. The qualities that made her ill-suited for her role as First Lady of the Confederacy served her well when she lobbied for his release from prison. The wife of Ulysses S. Grant, Julia Dent Grant, was a model of genteel domesticity, content with the restrictions of motherhood and with the alternating fame and disgrace, wealth and poverty that her marriage entailed, until late in life when she glimpsed the price of dependency. Bringing these three remarkable women vividly to life, Berkin captures the tensions and animosities of the prewar era and the disruptions and anxieties generated by the war and its aftermath, and connecting readers to America’s national past with rare immediacy and verve. Carol Berkin (Baruch College) is professor of history at the Graduate Center.

Submitted on: SEP 8, 2009

Category: History, Faculty Books