Nursing in the Civil War South

Volunteer Confederate Nurses American nursing was still in its infancy at the outbreak of the Civil War. In the antebellum South, women usually served as nurses within their own families. On large plantations, the master’s wife nursed her husband, children, and slaves. Many Southern women were already accustomed to caring for ill patients, and nursing was considered a woman’s duty. Image: Artist’s Sketch of a Civil War Hospital Still, it was not a job that ladies of breeding and stature would volunteer for. The Southern woman was regarded as delicate and modest. When Fort Sumter was fired upon, and the wounded and dying came pouring in from the battlefields, the South found itself unprepared to care for its casualties. The…

Read Article

Linda Richards

America’s First Trained Nurse Linda Richards (1841–1930) was the first professionally trained nurse in the United States. Her experiences with nursing her dying mother and her husband, who was wounded in the Civil War, inspired Richards to become a nurse. She was the first student to enroll in the first nurse training school at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in 1872. She established nurse training programs in the United States and Japan, and created the first system for keeping individual medical records for hospitalized patients. Linda Richards was born on July 27, 1841, the youngest daughter of Sanford Richards, an itinerant preacher who christened her Malinda Ann Judson Richards by her father, in hopes she would someday…

Read Article

Caroline Gilman

Novelist, Poet and Magazine Editor Caroline Gilman was one of the most popular women writers of the nineteenth century. Despite her northern origins, Caroline Gilman’s loyalties gradually shifted toward the South, and she became known as an important southern woman writer during the 1830s and 1840s. Her books promoted domestic tranquility as a solution not only for her heroines’ ills but also for those of the nation. Caroline Howard was born in Boston on October 1, 1794. Her parents were prosperous and well-connected. Her father died when she was two, and she was raised by an older sister after her mother’s death in 1804. Her formal education was limited, but Caroline developed an early interest in literature. She wrote poetry…

Read Article

Mary Bedinger Mitchell

Mary Bedinger Mitchell was born August 3, 1850. Her father, Henry Bedinger, served as America’s first ambassador to Denmark. In 1858, the family went to Shepherdstown, Virginia (now West Virginia), where Henry had grown up. In the 1840s, he came down with pneumonia after giving a speech to a cheering crowd. He died two weeks later. Mary Bedinger Mitchell The family lived for a while with her father’s sister, Henrietta Bedinger Lee, and her husband, Edmund Jennings Lee, the first cousin of Robert E. Lee. In 1859, Mary’s mother bought “Poplar Grove,” near Shepherdstown and had an addition built onto the house. She also hired a tutor to teach her children at home. After the Battle of Antietam, which occurred…

Read Article

Louisa Volker

Woman Telegraph Operator in Missouri Louisa Volker became a Union telegrapher in Missouri during the Civil War. Her intelligence activities put her at risk of capture because Confederate raiders in the area often kidnapped the local telegrapher when they invaded a town, and forced him to intercept messages from, or send false reports to, the enemy. Louisa Volker was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1838, the daughter of German immigrants. Her father Emanuel Volker was a grocer. Louisa had an older sister, two younger sisters and a brother. In the 1840s, Emanuel Volker purchased land in the city of St. Louis and surrounding counties. In the 1850s, the female members of the family, including Louisa, participated in these land…

Read Article
Frances Clalin Clayton - Jack Williams

Female Soldiers of the Civil War

Women Soldiers in the Civil War On September 17, 1862 at least four women fought at the Battle of Antietam. With more than 30,000 casualties, it was the single bloodiest day of the Civil War. At this bridge, Union troops under General Ambrose Burnside took heavy casualties. Both the Union and Confederate armies forbade the enlistment of women. So women who wanted to serve disguised themselves as men and assumed masculine names. Because many of them successfully passed as men, it is impossible to know with any certainty how many women served in the Civil War. The estimate is somewhere between 400 and 1000. I think even the larger number might be an understatement. Women who were determined to fight…

Read Article

Jane Howison Beale

Civil War Diarist and Educator Image: Widow Jane Howison Beale, Fredericksburg’s most prominent woman, lived in this home at the corner of Lewis and Charles Streets, and left a vivid account of the town during the Civil War. She was among the many who fled during the shelling from Federal artillery. Early Years Jane Howison was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1815, one of twelve children. Her parents, Samuel and Helen Moore Howison, were prominent members of the community. At the age of nineteen, Jane married William Churchill Beale. In 1846, William bought a large brick home in Fredericksburg. William died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1850, leaving Jane to cope with their large family alone. And…

Read Article

Amanda Smith

African American Evangelist and Missionary Amanda Berry Smith, a preacher and missionary, was a former slave who became an inspiration to thousands of women both black and white. During a forty-five-year missionary career of arduous travel on four continents, this self-educated former slave and washerwoman became a highly visible and well-respected leader despite intense opposition to women in public ministry, a crescendo of white racist violence and the tightening grip of segregation. Childhood Amanda Berry was born in born a slave at Long Green, Maryland on January 23, 1837. Her father, a slave, worked for years at night and after long days of field labor, he made brooms and husk mats to earn enough money to buy the freedom of…

Read Article

Georgeanna Woolsey

Civil War Nurse from New York Georgeanna Woolsey was young and single when the Civil War began. Shortly thereafter, the Woman’s Central Relief Association – part of the U.S. Sanitary Commission – began organizing a nursing staff. In May 1861 Woolsey was one of one hundred women selected to become a volunteer nurse for the Union Army. With no prior medical training, she was sent to New York for what she called in her diary, “a month’s seasoning in painful sights and sounds.” She was assigned to Washington, DC in July 1861. As fighting intensified, a hospital was set up in Washington, where ‘Georgy’ worked as a nurse. While she was there, she lived with her married sister Eliza Woolsey…

Read Article

Rachel Cormany

Civil War Diarist from Pennsylvania Rachel Bowman was born in Canada in 1836. During a time when few women had the opportunity for a formal education, Rachel received the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. Image: Samuel and Rachel Cormany To pay Rachel’s tuition, the family had moved to Westerville and opened a boarding house for students. One of those students was Samuel Cormany. Rachel graduated from Otterbein in 1859 and moved to eastern Pennsylvania to teach in the Quakertown Schools. Samuel Cormany followed her there and asked her to be his wife. She accepted, and they were married in November 1860. On their wedding trip, the couple visited Rachel’s relatives in Canada, and they…

Read Article