Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2009

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

American Studies

First Advisor

Leslie A. Schwalm

First Committee Member

Linda K Kerber

Second Committee Member

Catherine Komisaruk

Third Committee Member

Laura Rigal

Fourth Committee Member

Allen Steinberg

Fifth Committee Member

Deborah Whaley


This dissertation is a social and legal history of St. Louis and Missouri in the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. The study examines African American women's individual and collective struggles for freedom and civil status in the Age of Emancipation. By mining the records of the local military police in Missouri, this project finds that freedwomen, and even enslaved women, used military courts to seize rights during the Civil War. African American women entered this legal system as petitioners and claimed specific rights, including the right to paid labor, the right to state protection from bodily assault, and the right to custody of their children.

The project identifies a number of key points when emancipation took a gendered path. Union officers were more likely to allow fugitive men into their camps, as they viewed women as unfit for military work. Mothers with children were particularly unwanted in military camps and forts throughout the state. After slave enlistment began in Missouri, men were freed in return for their military service but their female relatives had to find a separate path out of slavery. As part of the process of emancipation, freedwomen developed and asserted their own beliefs regarding marital rights and obligations. These marital claims were made in dialogue with the Union army, the Military Pension Bureau, divorce law, and the African American church and community.

In the crisis of the Civil War, freedwomen developed a gendered conception of citizenship that was firmly rooted in their wartime struggle to destroy slavery. By considering the claims women made before military and civil officials, we can see in detail how African American women fought for national inclusion and, furthermore, that freedwomen's claims derived from a political philosophy that fueled their visions of freedom. The struggles of this population clarify the central role of the legacy of slavery, and the process of slave emancipation, in the construction of American citizenship rights.


Civil War, emancipation, Missouri, slavery, St. Louis, women


vi, 222 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 211-222).


Copyright 2009 Sharon Elizabeth Romeo