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Student Success - Harry Olafsen


  • The “Real Housewives of the American Civil War”

    Meet Harry Olafsen, a history major at Saint Francis University. 

    HIST Harry Olafsen Student Story contentHarry first developed an interest in the Civil War through childhood trips to the Gettysburg battlefield. Combining his passions for studying war and gender studies, Harry investigated individual women’s lives during the American Civil War in order to make arguments about the “domestic war” within homes.

    In the antebellum period, the cult of domesticity emerged as an ideology encouraging women to be spiritually pious, domestic, submissive to male authority, and morally pure. Prescriptive literature, i.e. housekeeping manuals, reinforced these definitions of the ideal American woman despite the fact that they only fit a segment of the population. For African American and working class white women, these ideals were difficult, if not impossible, to maintain. Additionally, lines between the domestic and public sphere blurred, which was further complicated by the war.

    Harry navigated these issues while reading through women’s personal diaries in order to discover hidden histories in their lives. This led him to examine the writings of southern plantation wife Mary Chesnut, northern housewife Lady Hettie Shriver, and free African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist Emilie Davis. These “Real Housewives” had diverse experiences during the war. 

    A recipient of the 2015-2016 Saint Francis University Arts & Letters Intrepid Grant, Harry is going to conduct research at two archives in Richmond, Virginia in order to further his analysis of women in the Civil War. He recently gave a poster presentation at the Saint Francis University Student Research Day in the fall of 2015. With the title “Real Housewives of the American Civil War,” his poster received a lot of attention.