Michele J Nacy. Members of the Regiment: Army Officers' Wives on the Western Frontier, 1865-1890. Contributions in American History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. ix + 128 pp. $55.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-313-30998-4.
Reviewed by Sarah Eppler Janda (Department of History, University of Oklahoma)
Published on H-Minerva (August, 2001)
One Sphere, One Army
One Sphere, One Army
Divided into an introduction and eight chapters, this book draws largely from the letters and diaries of eleven women as a means of accessing the impact of the army on the lives of officers' wives. Nacy rejects the characterization of army officers' wives as either camp followers or women who differed little from other frontier women. On the contrary, she maintains that their experiences were unique in many ways because of the constant and inescapable presence of the army. There were no "separate spheres" because the domestic realm existed within the public world of the army garrison. Virtually every aspect of these women's lives were shaped by the army. Where they lived, when they moved, when they saw their husbands, who delivered their children, and even what type of kitchen utensils they used were determined by the army. Perhaps ironically, yet not surprisingly, these women identified heavily with the army despite the fact that the army did not officially recognize their existence within the garrisons. As the title indicates, most of these women were in fact members of the regiment.
Engaging and concise, this book is in many ways ideal for an undergraduate course on Women in the American West. It contributes nicely to the recent vein in Women's West scholarship which seeks to convey the diversity of women and their experiences on the frontier. The fact that the doctrine of separate spheres does not adequately reflect the reality of many nineteenth-century women's experiences is not a new concept. Nacy does, however, point to yet one more group of women who defy this category. In terms of women in the military, the most revealing aspect of army officers' wives status was that their husbands' rank often extended to them when it came to dealing with enlisted men.
By way of criticism, Members of the Regiment is surprisingly repetitious in the use of anecdotes, especially for its short length. In more than a few places the same story is repeated using virtually the same language. The word "negro" is unnecessarily used in two places where "African American" or even "Black" would have been more appropriate. The analysis is also superficial at times. For instance, the author concludes that the eleven women under examination must have been somewhat happy and fulfilled in their marriages because none got divorced. This fails to take into account the social and financial consequences of divorce in the mid-nineteenth century nor does it address any added difficulty divorce might have posed for army officers and their wives. That said, the strengths of this book do outweigh the weaknesses, and it is well worth the short read.
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Sarah Eppler Janda. Review of Nacy, Michele J, Members of the Regiment: Army Officers' Wives on the Western Frontier, 1865-1890.
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