Make Your Own Woman's Fan

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Arkansas Connections 

Women in Arkansas during the Civil War worked just as hard as their husbands, sons, and fathers who went off to join the fighting. They joined together in communities to collect fabric and sew clothing for soldiers. They oversaw businesses their husbands left behind. Women ran farms, grew crops, and foraged when food became scarce among the general population. Regardless of what side they supported during the war, women often suffered at the hands of brigands known as bushwhackers.

Arabella Lanktree of Pine Bluff wrote a letter to her son in 1863 in which she describes her experience with bushwackers, who were “all round in the woods,” and “that keep up a constant system of annoyance & irritation, burning cotton, taking pickets prisoners, killing some, firing from behind trees etc. Notwithstanding all the strong parties that have gone in pursuit by night & day, they have still escaped detection & are continuing the same work . . . destroying generally.”

Women didn’t just take care of the home front during the war. Many women worked as nurses near the battle lines. Others worked as sutlers, or merchants that helped supply the armies. At least one woman, Loreta Velazquez, disguised herself as a man and raised her own group of Arkansas soldiers to join the fighting.

Even fashion was impacted by the war. Certain fabrics were scarce, and women on both sides of the conflict had to make do with what they had available. Despite this scarcity, women almost always carried a fabric or paper fan. Fans were necessary as well as fashionable, particularly because women tended to wear heavy clothing that became especially hot during the summer months. Women used fans as a way to cool themselves. They also used them as a silent communication device. How a woman held her fan might indicate her interest, frustration, happiness, or even illness.
Artwork courtesy of Project Gutenburg.

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