Such Anxious Hours

Civil War Sisters: Susan Brown and Ann Waldo

As one of seven sisters and as a long time fan of that paean to sisterhood, Little Women, I found the story of Susan Brown and Ann Waldo especially fascinating. Their mother had died when the girls were very young and as have countless sisters throughout real and literary history (Charlotte and Anne Bronte, Meg and Amy March, Polly and Phronsie Pepper) Susan took responsibility for her baby sister Ann. Susan’s sense of responsibility continued even into adulthood. When Ann’s husband Morris Waldo went off to war, Susan Brown once again welcomed Ann and her daughter Della into her home.

Most of the letters from the sisters in my book are written by Ann Waldo who reveals both her deep love for her husband as well as her very flirtatious nature. One of my favorite lines from Ann’s letters describes her interest in seeing Morris in his new uniform while she also notes she would be glad to see him in nothing at all.

In contrast, Susan’s letters are often reportorial in nature with an undercurrent of worry and older sister advice. She writes to Ann about the news of their village of Winneconne and encourages Ann to register for upcoming Teacher’s Examinations. Although Susan has, since the age of six, led a life of responsibility, she too has a strong sense of self and takes particular pride in her intellectual abilities. Her letter to Ann that describes Susan’s high scores in the Teacher’s Examination demonstrates the pride that Susan takes in her own abilities even when a less deserving male is hired for a teaching position instead of Susan.

Susan is perhaps my favorite woman in this book. Although her letters are few, the autobiography she wrote late in life, briefly described in my final chapter, led me to a deep admiration for this woman and gratitude for the role that she and countless other unnamed women played on the Civil War Wisconsin home front.

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