Outstanding Homemaking Skills Make History

I’ve come to a decision. If I had lived during the Civil War era, and if I’d been around the age of thirty and a spinster, I would’ve volunteered as a hospital matron in a base hospital. I’d rather not be a nurse. Just my opinion…  Why? Well, I’ve been reading the reminiscence of a hospital matron, and I have a new appreciation for that role.

Meet Phoebe Yates Pember – the hospital matron whose writing prompted my rambling thoughts. Today we’ll explore the job description, conflicts, and humor in a Confederate hospital through the explanations of Mrs. Pember. Continue reading

A Southern Lady’s Self-less Service

Look Away To Dixieland! Now, it’s time to introduce and remember some brave ladies from the South and their role as nurses or hospital matrons.

In the South, the prejudice against women’s service in the medical field was even more pronounced than in the North. But the ladies were not discouraged. While old-school surgeons made life unpleasant, saying that a woman must stay home and in her sphere of influence, the ladies argued that tending the sick and injured had been one of the tasks in their homemaker roles and that it became a way to contribute patriotic service. (For a more complete discussion of the argument, please read: Nurses of the American Civil War – An Overview)

Today I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite Southern nurses and share an overview of her experiences and contributions to the war effort. Meet Miss Kate Cumming… Continue reading

Author & Nurse: The Woman Who Wrote “Hospital Sketches”

Louisa_May_AlcottWho wrote the classic novel Little Women? If you said “Louisa May Alcott.” You’re correct!

Who volunteered as a nurse at a Union hospital in Washington D.C. –  “I haven’t the slightest idea…” Wait, I wasn’t finished with the question! (Don’t be so impatient, now.)

Let’s try again – Who volunteered as a nurse at a Union hospital in Washington D.C., worked hard and cheerfully, but became deathly ill and had to go home…and later wrote about her experiences in Hospital Sketches?

Louisa May Alcott is the correct answer. Let’s learn a little more about this remarkable writer and nurse and her role during the American Civil War.

Continue reading

Georgeanna Woolsey: Battlefield Nurse

Miss Woolsey responded, “We women cannot fight, but we can do our best to support our soldiers. I was a hospital nurse last year, and, oh, how desperately our brave soldiers need good care and supplies.” She looked sadly at the open tents where the suffering men lay, then glanced back to the work at hand. “You must excuse me. I’ve work to finish…”  ~ Blue, Gray & Crimson

Ladies – like Eliza Thorn – residing in or near Gettysburg were not the only women involved in the battle drama and aftermath. (Indeed, we could argue that any woman in America with beloved soldier had Gettysburg was potentially effected by those three days in July. But we shall not build such an extensive platform today.)

Today, we will discuss a lady who came to the battle area to assist with the care of wounded: Miss Georgeanna Woolsey.

Arriving at Gettysburg

Georgeanna Woolsey and her mother arrived in Gettysburg believing their brother / son who served on General Meade’s staff was wounded. Happily, they discovered this was not the case and then Mr. Frederick Olmstead found them.

Frederick Olmstead was in charge of the United State Sanitary Commission – an organization dedicated to providing medical assistance, good supplies, and camp and hospital cleanliness for the Union soldiers. Stockpiling supplies at strategic locations, the commission raced to battlefields to bring aid.

Olmstead asked Mrs. Woolsey and Miss Georgeanna if they would establish and oversee a Sanitary Commission camp near the railroad station in Gettysburg. The ladies quickly agreed.

What prompted Olmstead to request these ladies’ assistance so readily?

civil_war_nurseExperienced Nurse and Organizer

The Woolsey family was dedicated to the Union cause and staunchly supported the abolition movement. Georgeanna, a few of her seven sisters, and her mother volunteered as hospital nurses or took other roles with the Sanitary Commission.

Although it was shocking to society, Georgeanna walked from her beautiful home, went to a base hospital, and trained to serve as a nurse. Her descriptions of her early hospital experiences are forthright and she described her inexperience, fear, and shock. But she learned and was sent to Virginia in time for the first battle of the war. The Woolsey family  supported Georgeanna’s decision, but decreed that at least two Woolsey ladies would serve together – mother and daughter team or sister teams stepped out and entered the war zone hospitals.

Georgeanna became a competent, compassionate, and skilled nurse; she was also good at overseeing the management of a chaotic hospital. Thus, when Frederick Olmstead asked Georgeanna to establish an aid station, he knew he was asking one of the best qualified women.

Busy at Gettysburg

Georgeanna oversaw the pitching of tents, the cooking of food, distribution of medicine, and provided skilled medical nursing for the weary men who staggered or endured a bumpy ambulance ride to the train station. The trains ran on a tight schedule and often these wounded soldiers missed the trains which would take them from Gettysburg (Learn more about the Union medical system HERE.)

The soldiers then came to the Sanitary Commission camp and surrendered to the care and compassion of the Woolsey ladies and their assistants. According to her account, Georgeanna estimated that nearly every soldier who left Gettysburg stopped for at least a meal at her tents. Impressive!

After Gettysburg

Georgeanna and Mrs. Woolsey were at Gettysburg for three weeks. Afterward, Georgeanna wrote a pamphlet about their experiences, hoping to inspire other ladies to redouble their efforts to aid the soldiers.

Mrs. Woolsey and her daughter served as nurses until the end of the war and visited Richmond shortly after the conclusion of the conflict.

Georgeanna married a doctor she had met during the war and together they founded a nursing school. She wrote a nursing handbook and spent the rest of her life actively advocating aid for children and the poor.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah