Grade level:


Approximate Lesson Duration:

1-2 blocks

Unit/Lesson New Jersey Student Learning Standards (NJSLS):

6.1.8.D.5.c: Examine the roles of women, African Americans, and Native Americans in the Civil War.

6.1.12.C.4.c: Explain why the Civil War was more costly to America than previous conflicts were

Brief Summary of Cultural Competencies Related to the Unit/Lesson:

What makes this lesson culturally relevant? In this lesson, students will focus upon women during the Civil War who have often been “othered” or “silenced” as a result of their gender. Students will take a deeper dive into analyzing the history of women during the Civil War, and the ways in which they contributed to the war effort. In particular, students will be studying how some women chose to blur the gender lines by dressing as males and “passing” within society, during the Civil War and sometimes even after; thus allowing for a lens in the understanding of LGBTQ history/rights.

Lesson Overview:

Essential Question(s)
  • How have women contributed to the Civil War? 
  • In what ways have gender, masculinity, and social norms hindered the way that we view the female war effort? 
  • What sacrifices and dangers did women face that chose to confront the social norms of the Civil War period?
Enduring Understanding(s)

Students will gain knowledge about the various roles in which women played throughout the Civil War and how gender constructs have often inhibited our understanding of how some women ultimately were able to negotiate around these social norms  and create for themselves a place in which they were silently successful in pushing back against societal expectations for women at the time.

Potential Misconceptions

Explaining the dynamics of the way in which regional differences played a role in shaping the gendered spheres (i.e. Northern vs. Southern expectations for women) is an integral part of the lesson. In particular, emphasis should be placed on the fact that not all women who supported the war effort on either side chose to fight on the front lines, but these documented cases about female fighters can help to display a push-back of accepted social norms in society. It also shows that these women that did fight back, were not necessarily jailed, or punished for their cross-dressing / gender passing, instead they were simply sent home, or in some cases, left alone to live out their lives as the opposite gender.

Learning plan, experiences, intstruction and learning activities:

What is Expected?
  • List the intentional learning objectives on the board.

Students will be able to:


  • Analyze the ways in which women contributed to the war effort
  •  Describe how some women were able to defy societal constructs by fighting as “men”
  • Discuss the implications and potential risks these women took, and why they did.



Today we will be working on…

Looking at the way photographs sometimes do not reveal the entire narrative. And, we will take a look at a certain demographic of peoples and the ways in which they defied societal standards.

What is expected?
How will we hook (Introduce this to) the students?
  • Activate thinking
  • Consider the language you will use to introduce the lesson (See example in the table)

Link to Engagement

Recently, we…discussed the impact of the Civil War on the United States. 

Turn and talk to a partner about…the gallery wall that you just walked through in class. What was your favorite image? What image did you have a question about? What photograph do you think this most impactful? Why? Share the title of your photograph and why you named it as such. 

You are really beginning to understand the roles in which people played during the Civil  War. Today, we’re going to dig deeper with a new focus. This focus is…understanding how certain peoples were able to defy societal norms.

What equipment, resources, or materials are needed?
How will we rethink or revise our thinking throughout the lesson?
  • What learning is confirmed?
  • What misconceptions are uncovered?
  • What is your new thinking?
  •  A better understanding will be gained towards appreciating the roles and risks of women who fought in the Civil War disguised as men. For many of these women, they chose to live the rest of their lives as men so that they could capitalize on the pension system, etc. 
  • Although these women would not have considered themselves transgender as the term did not exist, they were pioneers in the movement to bring social awareness to the front for historians to begin to look at LGBTQ history in the historical narrative. 
  • The misconception that these women, if discovered, would have been severely punished or imprisoned. While that did happen occasionally, the majority of these women were simply sent home, not punished or subjugated for their role.
How will students self-evaluate and reflect on their learning?

Students will take a photograph from the gallery walk and provide a title at the beginning of the lesson. Towards the end of the lesson, they will have the chance to reflect and change the title of the photograph to reflect their learning (this can be used as an entrance/exit ticket assessment)

How will we tailor learning to varied needs, interests, and learning styles?
  • Teachers should hand-pick photographs that appeal and meet the needs of the learning level of the course. 
  • Teachers have the option of providing students with transcript copies of the podcast or an audio version. 
  • Websites referenced have short readings associated with the topic; teachers should use discretion about which ones to utilize and provide to their students.
How will we organize the sequence of learning during the lesson?

Scaffold the Instruction

  1. Model:
  • As students enter into the classroom, the teacher should have pre-printed some various photographs of women fighting in the Civil War war, as well as some other generalized photographs of soldiers. Begin a generalized conversation about the photos. With topics such as: 
    • What can we infer from the photographs? 
    • How do they speak to us about the time period?
    • What are some questions that you have about the photographs? 
  • Provide students with a copy of a woman that fought in the Civil War dressed in uniform. Ask students to take a very close look at the photograph – what do they notice? Have students jot down a title for the photograph. Tell students that they will have the chance to change it after the lesson 
  1. Guided Practice
  • Provide students with the audio/transcript of a podcast of teacher’s choice (i.e. Backstory provides a more generalized history, while She Wore The Pants is more specific to females in war.) – utilize selected clips to foster engagement of students, pausing to ask the following: 
    • What would make these women want to fight? 
    • Were there benefits to being a soldier? 
    • What risks (if any) were there? 
    •  How were they perceived by society? 
    • What happened to them after the war? 
    • Why is this history important? Why should we study it?
  • The teacher should engage students in a discussion of Victorian roles in society, and how throughout time, due to a patriarchal lens, this history often is lost or misconstrued, and it is important to recognize their efforts to the war, as well as the ways in which they pushed back against the social norms of women in the feminine sphere, thus allowing for future generations of perhaps LGBTQ peoples were able to break barriers within their society and assimilate into the “normative” culture. 
  • Be sure to explain that these women, while some of them chose to live the rest of their lives as men, the term transgender did not exist, and therefore, we must study these peoples in the lens in which they lived, however, we can infer that they definitely helped to begin to define what would become the modern concept of transgender. 


  1. Independent Practice
  • Utilizing their photographs, students will be given a graphic organizer that asks them to place themselves into the role of the female fighter and answer the following questions. Teachers are prompted to provide students with a small background on the fighter (where she was from, what her role was in the war, what battles she engaged in, what happened after) to explore the ways in which the war could have potentially impacted her life and her family. 
  • Students will then at the end of the lesson have the chance to go back and change the title of their original photograph as a part of their exit ticket. Teachers should ask why students may or may not have changed their response to engage in further discussion about the topic of female fighters in the Civil War.

Check for understanding:

(Formative evidence such as conferencing, group Q/A, teacher observation, exit-slip, etc.)

Teachers can utilize the titles of the photographs before and after the lesson to measure how student’s perceptions of women fighting in war have changed.

Teachers can utilize the graphic organizer provided see what potential student misconceptions still may exist, or how students understood the importance of women in war

Quiz/Test (optional):
(attach copy of assessment)

Performance Task/Project:
(attach rubric)

Download Lesson Plan PDF:


A Picture Tells A Thousand Words… 93.55 KB 11 downloads

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