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XIV. Massachusetts women in the civil war.

By Mary A. Livermore.
Any description of the services rendered by Massachusetts women in the civil war must be introduced by a brief sketch of the national organization which mainly guided them. The United States Sanitary Commission was in the field almost as soon as the first soldiers, and it was the outgrowth of the patriotism of women. The great uprising in April, 1861, of men who forgot sectarian and political differences in their quickened love of country, was paralleled by a similar uprising of women. Men mustered for the battlefield at the call of the President, and women mustered in churches, school-houses and parlors, eagerly asking what they could do, and calling for instruction. Within fifteen days after the President's call for seventy-five thousand volunteers, scores of associations of women were formed, pledged to the service of the imperilled Republic, to supplement it in its care of sick and wounded soldiers, and to assist in the care of the dependent families they had left behind. These associations increased to hundreds in a very few months.

The most remarkable of these organizations was formed in the city of New York early in the war, and was known as ‘The Woman's Central Association of Relief.’ In connection with other similar organizations, it decided to send a committee to Washington, to learn from the highest authorities ‘in what way the voluntary offerings of the people could best be made available for the relief of the army.’ Dr. Bellows of New York was elected chairman of this committee, and before he returned from Washington a plan of the Sanitary Commission, drawn up by himself, received the sanction of the President and Secretary of War. Not heartily, however, for the very highest officials of the government regarded the whole plan as quixotic, and consented to it only because ‘it could do no harm.’ But for the zeal, intelligence and persistence of his women constituents, numbering thousands, it is more than probable that Dr. Bellows would have abandoned his humane efforts, so annoying were the rebuffs and hindrances which opposed him. In a few months, however, the baseless prejudice against the commission died, and the army surgeons, at first opposed to it, became enthusiastic in its praise.

The commission did a more extensive work than was at first contemplated, or is to-day generally known. It was an enterprise that sprang from the hearts of the people, and which planted itself firmly on their generosity, for it received no government aid in money or sanitary stores. It depended wholly on the voluntary contributions of loyal men and women throughout the nation. The people honored the trust reposed in them, and sent to the army, through the commission, between [587] twenty-five and thirty million dollars in money and supplies. There was a resolute determination in their hearts that neither inexperience nor dogged adherence to army routine should cause such wholesale slaughter of their beloved citizen soldiers as lack of sanitary care and proper food had wrought among British soldiers in the war of the Crimea, only six years before.

Until our civil war, it was considered inevitable that for every soldier killed in battle four must die of disease, even when sanitary conditions were at their best, and the death rate was generally much heavier than this. In the Crimean war seven-eighths of the mortality of British troops were due to disease; and in January, 1855, ninety-seven per cent. of the deaths was from the same cause. But during our national struggle, for every soldier who fell in battle only two died of disease, —the splendid result of the beneficent work of the commission, which knew neither sect nor section, parties nor nationalities, in its life-saving and life-preserving activities. What were the methods of the Sanitary Commission? Only the briefest outline of them can be given here.

It was to be subordinate to army rules and regulations, to supplement and not supplant the government, to strengthen it by earnest co-operation and not weaken it by a divided authority. The railroads transported all its freight free of charge, the express companies carried its packages at half rate, and the telegraph companies remitted the usual charges on its messages.

It sent into the army inspectors, always medical men, who investigated and reported on all matters of importance relating to the health and efficiency of the army. It caused the preparation, by the best medical talent of the country, of eighteen concise treatises on the best means of preserving health in camp, and on the treatment of the sick and wounded in hospital and on the battlefield.

It put trained nurses into the hospitals; invented soup-kettles on wheels, with portable furnaces attached, for use during battle; and hospital cars for the transportation of the wounded, in which the bed was suspended by stout tugs of India-rubber, to prevent jolting.

It maintained all along the route of the army and over the field of war ‘soldiers' homes,’ which were free hotels for any man wearing the army or navy blue, if he was separated from his regiment, or passing back and forth, without money, rations or transportation. It entertained 800,000 soldiers in them, and furnished 4,500,000 meals and 1,000,000 nights' lodgings.

It established a ‘claim agency,’ which secured the ‘bounty money’ of the soldiers when for some reason it had been kept back. It opened a ‘pension agency,’ whose name explains its office, and a ‘back-pay agency,’ which took the defective papers of the soldiers, regulated them, and in a few hours drew their pay, —sometimes $20,000 a day.

It maintained a ‘hospital directory,’ through which information could be officially obtained concerning the sick and wounded in the 233 general military hospitals of the army. On its books were recorded the names of over 600,000 men, with the latest information procurable concerning them. It methodized a system of ‘battlefield relief,’ whose agents were always on the field during an engagement, with surgeons, ambulances and store wagons loaded with anesthetics, surgical instruments, nourishment, tonics, stimulants and every species of relief. [588]

Two large central offices of the commission, with depots of supplies, were located at Washington, D. C., and Louisville, Ky., through which gateways supplies of all kinds went to the army. Ten branch commissions were established at ten cities of the North, all of them subordinate and tributary to the central offices, and all managed by women,—one of them being located at Boston. It is the aim of the following chapter to narrate the history and the work of this branch commission as fully as possible from the meagre sources at command.

The women of Boston and Massachusetts responded promptly to the call of the country at the very beginning of the war, and soldiers' aid societies, sewing circles for the soldiers and relief societies sprang up simultaneously with the organization of companies and regiments in the State. But it was not until near the close of the year 1861 that these scattered philanthropic efforts were combined in the Sanitary Commission, and order emerged from the chaos of benevolence.

On November 28 of that year a few ladies met in a private parlor in Boston to listen to an address from Dr. H. W. Bellows of New York, president of the United States Sanitary Commission, who urged the immediate organization of a New England branch of the commission, with headquarters at Boston. A committee was appointed to take this proposition into consideration, who reported favorably and advised the prompt formation of the auxiliary branch. A constitution was adopted; an executive committee appointed, to take general superintendence of affairs; an industrial committee, to cut and superintend the manufacture of hospital clothing and bedding; and a finance committee, for the collection of funds.

Connecticut and Rhode Island in a very short time drew out from the New England society, as it was more convenient for them to send their supplies to the New York branch for shipment to the army. As the work proceeded, the cities of western Massachusetts and southern Vermont frequently did the same thing, as New York was more accessible to them than Boston, and the route thither shorter and more direct. It is not possible, therefore, to make an exact statement of the sanitary work accomplished by the women of Massachusetts. The Boston branch drew its supplies from a very populous district, which was well cultivated. It established ‘centres of collection’ in the lesser cities, into which from every town and village the supplies flowed, when the work done was that of an immense shipping business.

The supplies were sorted, repacked, marked with the stamp of the ‘United States Sanitary Commission,’ and held subject to orders from the central office at Washington. When there was an urgent demand from any field of action for immediate and extra relief, the specified needs were telegraphed from Washington to the branches, through them to their affiliated societies, and in a few hours the women of the remotest districts were at work to supply them; and, as every branch telegraphed weekly an account of its supplies on hand, the central office knew at any moment what available resources were at its disposal.

During the first year of its work the Boston branch organized 475 societies, and corresponded with 275 more already in existence. The receipts of the year were $32,313.30, which was spent for materials for garments and bedding and their manufacture. There were cut and made during the year 34,142 articles of clothing,— bed-sacks, quilts, sheets, pillow sacks and slips, cushions, wrappers, shirts and [589] drawers, both cotton and flannel, etc. They were made by auxiliary societies, and poor women who were paid for their work by benevolent people. All work was voluntary and done by women, mostly from Boston, and no one was paid from the treasury of the commission except a porter, who was a hired assistant. Even the spacious rooms they occupied at 22 Summer Street were rent free. In addition to the garments manufactured the first year, they purchased and shipped, on requisition from Washington, hospital edibles, like farina, condensed milk, beef stock, tea, sugar, cocoa, jellies, fresh and dried fruit, wines, syrups, tamarinds, etc.; and hospital supplies, like surgical instruments, washing-machines, soap, sponges, mutton tallow, cologne, bay rum, lint, bandages, fans, oiled silk, combs, stationery, games, handkerchiefs, caps, hats, towels and books,—in all costing $10,231.54.

When the army of the Potomac was employed in the unfortunate peninsular campaign, in a low, swampy, malarious region, it was found that large hospital steamers were necessary for the reception and transportation of the sick and wounded. The same humane arrangements were demanded by the western campaign, whose passion was the reopening of the Mississippi. The Sanitary Commission applied to the Secretary of War for the use of steamers for this purpose, and the Quartermaster-General immediately ordered as many detailed to the service of the commission, large enough to carry a thousand men, as were needed.

The first vessel assigned was the ‘Daniel Webster,’ which was speedily fitted up for hospital service, and in June, 1862, it steamed to Boston with its sorrowful freight of sick and wounded men. The poor fellows were tenderly transferred to hospitals in the vicinity, the storehouse of the Boston commission was drawn upon freely for whatever was necessary to their comfort and well-being, and over $1,600 were spent in the purchase of hospital delicacies. Then the commission again refitted the steamer, shipped on board a complete assortment of supplies and despatched it on its return errand to White House, Va., where another congregation of sufferers was awaiting its arrival. In this relief work, which was repeated again and again, the women of the commission received the hearty and prompt co-operation of men.

The outline of one year's work of the New England society and the Boston branch commission indicates the service rendered by these organizations throughout the war. The receipts of the year 1863 were $67,877.72; there were spent for materials for hospital clothing $26,761.69. The articles manufactured numbered 28,722. They helped disabled men returning to their homes to obtain their discharge papers, back pay, pensions, rations and transportation. They sent agents to accompany those who could not go alone; sent the last messages of the dying, with the little souvenirs in their possession, to surviving kindred and friends; and, whenever it was possible, maintained communication and sent supplies to our brave men shut up in Southern prisons.

In April, 1863, a temporary ‘soldiers' home’ was established in Boston, at 76 Kingston Street, opposite the United States Hotel. It was open day and night for the reception and entertainment of soldiers and sailors going to or from the front, who for some reason were travelling alone, and must stop by the way. It entertained 54,046 soldiers before the close of the war, at a cost of $65,770.98, the average cost of each man, including hospital-car service, being a little over 80 cents. [590]

The hospital-car service was established between Boston and New York, under the direction of the soldiers' home committee. Two first-class cars were appropriated and fitted for the purpose by the several companies forming the railroad line, via Worcester, Springfield, Hartford and New Haven. Each car was furnished with nine portable litter beds, suspended by stout rubber bands; twelve folding easy hospital chairs; twelve ordinary railway car seats; a hospital store closet, supplied with medicines, stimulants and other appliances for the medical and surgical treatment of soldiers, a culinary apparatus and a supply of hospital clothing.

One of these cars left Boston and New York daily, in charge of a military hospital steward and a nurse, for the conveyance of soldiers. The necessary funds for the support of this special relief service were drawn from the treasury of the Boston branch, and at one time $10,000 were donated for the same purpose by the New England society. These hospital cars transported from Boston to New York 21,729 soldiers, and furnished them 57,413 meals.

In December, 1863, the women of the New England society held a large sanitary fair in Music Hall, Boston, which netted them nearly $146,000. Preparations for the fair had been going on for months. The canvassing, soliciting, advertising and correspondence taxed the members of the society very heavily, for 1,050 cities and towns co-operated in this fair. But all the while the regular work of relief and supply for the soldiers was steadily continued, with no remission of effort.

As the people at large had a very inadequate conception of the great work of the Sanitary Commission and its needs, the New England society sent out lecturers who had been engaged in the active service of the commission among the soldiers in the field. They were welcomed by the people, who listened to them with intense interest. Between two and three hundred of these lectures were delivered in Massachusetts in three months. They were productive of much good. Churches of all denominations exerted themselves to increase the treasury of the society. Many schools made special efforts in its behalf; the directors of railroads, express companies, newspapers and business firms befriended them most liberally; and private individuals of both sexes, all ages and conditions, volunteered their help in ways too numerous to mention.

In April, 1864, the society was obliged to change its quarters to 18 West Street, where generous friends offered them, rent free, a central and suitable office. The work of the industrial department had so increased that it had become necessary to separate it from the executive department, and it was furnished with rooms perfectly suited to its needs, free of rent, in the Savings Bank building, Temple Place, Boston. The receipts of the year were $179,622.93. There were spent for materials $48,325.40, and 39,664 garments were manufactured.

The receipts of the year 1865 were $41,163.78, of which $28,630.69 were spent for materials, and 29,285 articles were made from them. The total receipts of the New England society were $314,874.07. In addition to the regular hospital supplies, the society distributed in the hospitals 168,476 books and pamphlets.

A vast deal of relief and supply work was done by Massachusetts women during the war, besides that accomplished under the auspices of the Sanitary Commission. The same is true of men, not only in Massachusetts, but throughout the North. [591]

In the autumn of 1861, Miss Anna Lowell, now Mrs. Woodbury, with other Boston ladies, organized the ‘Union Hall Association of Boston,’ which was formed to give employment to the wives of the volunteer soldiers. Among the ladies interested with Miss Lowell were Mrs. Oliver Wendell Holmes and Mrs. James T. Fields. These ladies took large contracts of army clothing at the government price, and obtained contributions of money from wealthy people, which enabled them to pay good wages to the sewing-women. Over 900 women were employed by this association the first year, and more than 70,000 garments of different kinds were made in that time by these needy wives of soldiers. During the four years of the war they made 346,715 garments, mostly shirts and drawers, and the sum of $20,033.78, raised by donation, was paid as additional wages to the work-women.

Later in the war, Miss Lowell helped to organize, and personally managed, the special diet kitchen in connection with the Armory Square Hospital, in Washington. In 1865, in connection with Miss Annie Buttrick, Miss Mary Felton and Miss Annette Rogers, she organized the ‘Howard Industrial School,’ in Cambridge, Mass. This school received and provided for several hundred colored people, sent North by Gen. Charles Howard and Gen. S. C. Armstrong. This was one of the earliest industrial schools, and exerted a wide influence. Situations in Northern families were found for the colored women, while the girls and children were kept in the school and instructed to read, write, cook, sew and do household work. The school continued for three years, and stimulated the establishment of others like it, which have been enlarged and improved to meet emergencies continually arising.

One of the ten branch commissions was located at St. Louis, Mo., and was called ‘The Western Sanitary Commission.’ Its organization was the result of circumstances growing out of the war in Missouri, and the necessity for it was sudden and unexpected. The city of St. Louis had become the ‘headquarters of the military department of the west.’ During the summer of 1861 half a dozen desperately fought battles occurred in the State, within easy railroad distance of the city, and the number of killed and wounded was very great. The wounded, numbering over seven hundred, were taken to St. Louis, where they were not expected; no preparation had been made for them, and the hospital accommodations of the whole city were insufficient for them. This was but the beginning of things. Large detachments of sick and wounded men continued to arrive daily; and the care of them, with the fitting up of extemporized hospitals, improvising means of relief and subsidizing nurses and supplies, were mainly left to the loyal people of St. Louis by the acting medical director.

It was at this juncture that the Western Sanitary Commission was called into existence. The loyal people of St. Louis and the State rallied to its support, but they were unequal to the situation, generous and patriotic as they were. It became necessary for the commission to send its appeals for aid outside the geographical territory assigned it. Every loyal State answered willingly and with more or less generosity. ‘But among all the States of the Union which have given to the Western Sanitary Commission,’ wrote its secretary at the close of the war, ‘none have surpassed Massachusetts. And, though operating in a wholly western field, the western commission is free to acknowledge that its largest and most munificent contributions have come from the old Bay State. When it is remembered [592] that Massachusetts had her own sons in the field, mainly in the departments of the South and of the Gulf and in the armies of the Potomac, and that it was improbable that a dollar of all the large contributions from Boston would benefit one Massachusetts soldier, no one can fail to appreciate the disinterested patriotism and benevolence which helped the western commission over many a hopeless emergency.’

One Boston woman, Mrs. Thomas Lamb, set apart a ‘Missouri room’ in her house, for the reception of hospital supplies of every kind. She notified all her friends of her readiness to become the almoner of their patriotic gifts, assuring them that money was as acceptable as supplies. As fast as boxes were filled she forwarded them to St. Louis, until her shipments of goods exceeded $17,000, while in money she forwarded as much more.

Miss Maria R. Mann, a near relative of the Hon. Horace Mann, first secretary of the Board of Education of Massachusetts, left her pleasant New England home during the first year of the war, and went to St. Louis to aid in the work of the western commission. She remained till near the close of the war, engaged in most arduous work in the hospitals, and among the colored people and white refugees of Helena, Ark. She was sustained in her work by the contributions of New England women, mostly in Massachusetts, who not only supplied her with money, but with several thousand dollars' worth of garments, material for clothing, furniture, medicines, stoves, etc., Rev. Dr. Eliot at St. Louis acting as treasurer of a special fund for this purpose.

‘The Boston Sewing Circle’ was organized in Boston, November, 1862, and maintained a membership to the end of the war of from one hundred and fifty to two hundred workers. The sewing circle raised $21,778 in money,—about $4,000 of it for the white refugees in western Tennessee,—and it made up 21,592 articles of clothing, flannel and cotton.

In eight months the women of Massachusetts forwarded to the western commission 223 large cases of sanitary stores, miscellaneous in character but of the very best quality.

In November, 1863, an appeal was sent to Massachusetts from the western commission in behalf of the freedmen depending on St. Louis for aid, and who were in extreme destitution. Contributions amounting in value to over $30,000 were promptly forwarded, consisting of clothing, material for clothing, shoes and other necessary articles. In addition, $13,000 in money were collected in Boston for the same purpose. The names of men and women are intermingled in the list of donors on this occasion, and a small portion of the supplies came from other New England States than Massachusetts.

On one occasion, when some special need demanded it, the sum of $9,000 in money was collected in Boston and sent forward to the commission in St. Louis. A few months later, when there was desperate fighting in the south-west and along the Mississippi, and St. Louis seemed destined to become a city of hospitals, as boat after boat unloaded its freight of wounded men on the levees, an appeal was sent broadcast for help to meet the emergency. Rev. Dr. Eliot of St. Louis appealed to Boston in behalf of the western commission, and the city responded generously, and with promptness, in a gift of $50,000. [593]

Another contribution of $35,000 in money was forwarded to the St. Louis commission from Boston in the winter of 1863, of which Governor Andrew of Massachusetts gave $1,000 ‘from private funds placed in his hands,’ and Mrs. N. I. Bowditch of Boston gave another $1,000. Almost as many names of women as of men appear in the lists of the contributors to these Boston donations. Sometimes there is an absence of individual names when the donations of women are recorded, but, by their own wish, they are reported as ‘eight ladies of Salem, $100 each;’ ‘seven ladies of Fitchburg, $50 each,’ etc. Massachusetts was as intent on relieving the suffering of western soldiers as she was in caring for her own sons. And when the wounded dependent on the western commission swelled to a ghastly army, and their sufferings seemed almost immitigable, the devotion of the old Bay State rose to a passion, and she poured out her benefactions with a heartiness and a munificence that fired the patriotic zeal of the unflagging workers to the utmost.

In this imperfect narration it has not been possible wholly to separate the sanitary work of the women of Massachusetts during the war from that of men. They worked together in almost every department, except that of cutting and manufacturing hospital clothing and bedding and collecting sanitary stores; that remained in the hands of women throughout the war. Women were also the managers, creators and organizers of the great sanitary fair of Boston, which yielded almost $150,000, men assisting, under the direction of women. The same is true of all the sanitary fairs of the country, which yielded the commission between three and four million dollars. It never seemed to occur to these patriotic women that they were making history, for they kept only the most meagre records of their splendid work, and were so indifferent to the preservation of these reports that a copy was discovered only by persistent and laborious search. They manifested most thorough business ability in details, systematic methods from which they never deviated, and so thorough and hearty a co-operation with men that no record was made of ‘the work of men,’ or ‘the work of women,’—only records of ‘work accomplished.’

Boston was filled with patriotic women during the war. ‘To name them all would be almost like publishing a directory of the city.’ It is not easy to make special mention of a few, where all were alike devoted and untiring. But no one can remember that coterie of gifted Boston .women, whose philanthropic services were invaluable to the Sanitary Commission, without immediately recalling Miss Abby W. May, the leader of the New England society from the first, the recognized executive head of the Boston commission. She was a native of Boston, and was educated in the best schools of her native city. She rendered valuable services, when quite young, to the anti-slavery movement, and at the very commencement of the war gave herself most heartily to the work of relieving the sufferings of the soldiers. In the spring and summer of 1862 she served in the hospital transport service of the Sanitary Commission, where her labors were very arduous. After her return she was prevailed upon to take the chairmanship of the executive committee of the New England society, which she retained to the close of the war. Rapid and accurate in her despatch of business, prompt and unerring in her judgment on all difficult questions, earnest and eloquent in her appeals to the auxiliaries, she was signally successful in her management of affairs, and brought the New England society to the highest stage of efficiency. [594]

Mrs. C. R. Lowell, who gave two sons to the war, both of whom were slain at the head of their commands, was herself one of the most zealous laborers in behalf of the soldier, in Boston or its vicinity. Like many others east and west, she took a contract from the government for the manufacture of army clothing, that she might provide work for the families of soldiers, preparing the work for them, and paying them more than the government paid her. Her daughter, Miss Anna Lowell, served on one of the hospital transports in the peninsula. On arriving at Harrison's Landing, where she was to take charge of a ward on a hospital steamer that was transporting sick and wounded men to the North, she received the sad news that her beloved brother had fallen at the head of his men in one of the seven days battles that had occurred in her vicinity. Almost crushed with the blow, she buried her sorrow in her own bosom, went on board the steamer when it stopped at the Landing, nursed, fed, bathed and comforted the patients assigned to her care, appearing to them the sunniest and most sympathizing nurse on board.

When the men were removed to the hospitals to which they were assigned she returned to Washington, and from the summer of 1862 till the close of the war was in charge as ‘lady superintendent’ of the Armory Square Hospital, Washington.

Other women of Boston, hardly less active, were Mrs. Amelia L. Holmes, wife of the poet and essayist, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes; Miss Hannah E. Stevenson; Miss Isa E. Loring; Mrs. George H. Shaw; Mrs. Martin Brimmer; Mrs. George Ticknor and Mrs. William B. Rogers; Miss Mary Felton of Cambridge, Mass., who served in the same hospital for a long time with her friend, Miss Lowell. Mrs. Ticknor was president of the Boston sewing circle, which raised nearly $22,000 in money for material for hospital clothing, and manufactured from it over 21,000 garments, mostly flannel, for the sick and wounded. Mrs. Ticknor was also president of an organization formed for the relief of the Second Regiment of Massachusetts Infantry, and which afterward included other soldiers. This society raised nearly $4,000 in money, and sent to the men 4,969 articles of clothing, one-third of which were flannel.

Miss Dorothea L. Dix was a native of Worcester, Mass. In early life she became very much interested in prison reform, at a time when the inmates of penal institutions were shockingly neglected, and were almost wholly at the mercy of unprincipled and unfeeling keepers. She was aided and encouraged in her work by her friend and pastor, Rev. Dr. Channing, of whose children she had been governess. Energetic in character, humane and kindly in spirit, the work grew on her hands, until not only prisoners, but paupers and the insane, were included in her voluntary mission of philanthropy, which she early accepted as the work of her life. In pursuance of it she visited every State in the Union east of the Rocky Mountains, examining prisons, poor-houses and insane asylums, and endeavoring to persuade legislatures and influential people to take measures for the relief of these wretched classes. Her exertions resulted in the establishment of State insane asylums in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana and North Carolina.

Only once during her long life did she turn aside from her chosen work. The war came, and men and women were kindled to a white heat of patriotic devotion. Among the very first to act was Miss Dix, who, self-reliant, and conscious of her [595] ability for usefulness, started for Washington to offer her services to her country before the first regiments had reached the national capital. She passed through Baltimore the day after the Sixth Massachusetts Infantry had been mobbed in passing through that city, and her first work on reaching Washington was nursing the wounded soldiers who were the victims of the mob. She was the first woman to engage in work for the relief of wounded soldiers.

On the 10th of June, 1861, Secretary Cameron, at the head of the War Department, appointed Miss Dix ‘superintendent of female nurses,’ with sole power to decide upon their qualifications, to direct them in their work and to appoint them to their places in hospitals. When Secretary Stanton succeeded Secretary Cameron, he ratified the appointment. She installed several hundred nurses in the hospitals, and almost all hospital matrons, who were always entitled to pay from the government when they held appointments from Miss Dix. But as the enlarged operations of the army in the west and south-west and the south greatly increased the demand for women nurses, other superintendents of nurses were appointed at St. Louis, Chicago and Louisville, who detailed them from their own sections of country, accompanied them to the field and located them where they were needed.

Miss Dix put her whole soul into the work. She rented several large houses as depots for the sanitary supplies sent her, as houses of rest and refreshment for nurses and convalescent soldiers; employed several secretaries in her work; owned ambulances, and kept them busily employed; printed and distributed circulars full of help and instruction for her nurses; maintained a constant visitation of hospitals, especially those that were remote and likely to be neglected; and paid all expenses from her own purse. She pursued her labors to the end, and did not resign her position for months after the close of the war, tarrying in Washington to finish many an uncompleted task for some time after her office was abolished. When all was done she returned to her life-work, in which she remained active and vigorous until death gave her discharge from her labors.

Clara H. Barton was born in North Oxford, Worcester County, Mass. She was a teacher in her early life, in which profession she had a remarkable but very arduous career. Failing in health, she sought recuperation in Washington, and when she became convalescent a friend obtained an appointment for her in the patent office, which she held for three years. She was the first and at that time the only woman employed in the governmental departments at Washington. She was in that city when about thirty of the wounded men who were victims of the Baltimore mob of April 19, 1861, were carried to the Washington Infirmary for surgical treatment and nursing. Miss Barton proceeded promptly to the spot, a few hours after Miss Dix had begun her humane work among these sufferers of the Sixth Massachusetts Infantry, and remained at her post till the men were able to leave the hospital. This was her induction into the immense work she performed during the war, which cannot even be epitomized here, it was so varied and extensive.

Her work and its fame grew apace, and she was encumbered with the hospital supplies sent her, the constant stock she had on hand, during the summer of 1862, averaging about five tons. At last General Rucker, the excellent chief quartermaster of Washington, gave her storage for them, and she could then work more systematically. During the long, disastrous peninsular campaign she went to the [596] wharves daily, when the transports arrived with loads of suffering men from the swamps of the Chickahominy, her ambulance laden with dressings and restoratives, alleviating their miseries as they were removed to the hospitals. She went with railroad cars, loaded with supplies, to those wounded in the battles of Cedar Mountain, Chantilly, Fredericksburg and Antietam. She established her headquarters once in a tall field of corn; at another time, in a barn; and at Antietam, on the piazza of an abandoned house, working day and night with the shot and shell shrieking around her, her face black as a negro's, and her lips and throat parched with the sulphurous smoke of battle.

She accompanied the Ninth Army Corps from Harper's Ferry to Fredericksburg, with her wagon train, as a general purveyor for the sick. Her supply of comforts for the men was ample, and it was increased every day by fresh stores, gathered by foragers on the enemy. Every night when they encamped fires were kindled and fresh food and necessities were cooked for the moving hospital. Through all the long and painful march her wagon train constituted the hospital larder and kitchen for all the sick within reach. She accompanied the Gilmore and Dahlgren expedition to James, Folly and Morris islands; and during the long siege of Fort Wagner, all through the torrid summer, she remained under the fire of the heaviest rebel batteries, devoting herself to the suffering men.

At the close of the war, when the Southern prisons were opened, it was found that thirteen thousand of our brave fellows had died in confinement at Andersonville, and were buried within the enclosure. A young Connecticut soldier, himself a prisoner, had obtained a copy of all the records of interments in that field of death, and could identify the graves of most of the dead men. Miss Barton was requested by the Secretary of War to accompany the young soldier to Andersonville, and to superintend his work. The prison was laid out as a cemetery, and head-boards, with the name and rank of the dead soldiers, were placed at the graves. About four hundred graves, which could not be identified, were marked with suitable head-boards. A volume would be necessary for a full record of Miss Barton's war services.

Miss Helen L. Gilson, a beautiful young woman of Chelsea, Mass., a niece of Hon. Frank B. Fay, had an equally heroic record in other departments of the service. There is no space for the wonderful details of her army life. She was an exquisite vocalist, and wherever she went, through the wards of the hospitals or on the crowded hospital transports, she would sing patriotic songs or religious hymns, until the men would forget their miseries in their exaltation of soul. Although under thirty years of age, she became the matron of a hospital for colored soldiers at City Point, and with rare executive ability organized a ‘sick-diet kitchen,’ from which nine hundred men were served daily with the food necessary in their sad condition. She came out of the war with greatly impaired health, as did many women. She lived but a few years after, and her remains were buried in the Grand Army lot at Woodlawn, Malden, Mass. The soldiers for whose well-being she had given her life desired that her mortal body should rest among the remains of their comrades.

Miss Louisa M. Alcott, known to all young readers by the books that she wrote for them, worked in the hospitals until she broke down with hospital fever, from the [597] effects of which she never wholly recovered. Her first successful literary effort was the story of her hospital work, published under the title ‘Hospital Sketches.’

Another well-known author, Mrs. Helen Hunt (H. H.), a native of Amherst, Mass., performed similar service in a hospital in Rhode Island.

Mrs. Rebecca R. Pomroy of Chelsea, Mass., was another of the heroic women who gave themselves to hospital work. Bereft by death of her husband and a son and daughter, almost at one stroke, she sought comfort in ministering to those who were more heavily weighted with sorrow and suffering than herself. She offered her services as a nurse to Miss Dix, was accepted, and installed in the Georgetown, D. C., hospital. She proved herself so unusual and efficient as to attract the attention of surgeons and of visiting members of Congress. And when sickness invaded the White House, and Mrs. Lincoln and Willie, the second and favorite son of the President, were sick unto death, and a good nurse was unattainable anywhere in the District of Columbia, Mrs. Pomroy was sent by Miss Dix to the stricken household. Willie died, Mrs. Pomroy remaining in charge of the other invalid till she was fully restored, comforting the bereaved President by her sympathy and kindness, and calming and managing the distracted household. She then returned to her work for the soldiers, sometimes in hospitals, sometimes on hospital transports and sometimes in the rear of the battlefield, where the wounded were brought to her for care and protection. After the surrender at Appomattox she came home to rest. Not long, however, for her practical ability was sought for the management of the ‘Newton, Mass., Home for Orphan and Destitute Girls,’ where she remained in charge until her recent death.

Miss Emily E. Parsons of Cambridge, Mass., was the daughter of Prof. Theophilus Parsons of the Cambridge Law School, and grand-daughter of the late Chief Justice Parsons of Massachusetts. She obtained admission into the Massachusetts General Hospital as a student, to learn how to care for the sick, to dress wounds, to prepare diet for invalids, and to acquire a knowledge of what pertains to a well-regulated hospital. At the suggestion of Mrs. John C. Fremont, the St. Louis branch commission telegraphed her to come at once to that city, where she was greatly needed. At that time every available building in St. Louis was converted into a hospital, and was crowded with patients. The same was true of Mound City (near Cairo), Memphis, Quincy, Ill., and all the cities on the Ohio River. Miss Parsons was assigned to the hospital steamer City of Alton, which plied between Vicksburg and St. Louis, bringing the sick and wounded from the various military posts to whatever hospitals on the river could receive them. After a time she was transferred to Benton Barracks Hospital, St. Louis, where were two thousand patients. She was made superintendent of all the nurses employed there, men and women. She reduced the work to a perfect system, trained the nurses to perform the work allotted them, co-operated with the surgeons in carrying out humane and enlightened plans, and Benton Barracks Hospital became famous for its excellence and the rapid recovery of its patients. At the close of the war she gave her services for some time to the freedmen in the south-west, where her adherence to systematic work, her unfailing cheerfulness and kindness and her power of persistence in carrying out her plans, made her as eminent and as useful as she had been in the hospitals. [598]

Miss Charlotte Bradford of Duxbury, Mass., daughter of Hon. Gamaliel Bradford, began her relief work in the very hardest department. She was assigned to the ‘hospital transport service.’ When the army of the Potomac removed from the high grounds about Washington to the swampy and miasmatic region of the peninsula, it caused an outbreak of malarial diseases of a severe character. Very soon there were added to the large list of the diseased a host of wounded men, brought from the sanguinary battlefields in numbers beyond all previous precedents. It became absolutely necessary to remove them to the hospitals in and about Washington, if the brave men were to have a chance for recovery. The government authorized the commission to take any of its transports not in actual use for the removal of the sick and wounded from the deadly locality. This it did, fitting them up as hospitals, and assigning to each a corps of ladies, to take charge of the diet of the patients, to assist in dressing their wounds, to cleanse them from the mud of the Chickahominy and the gore of battle, and in every way to promote their comfort and recovery.

The work was of the hardest, and called for persistent power of endurance and habitual self-control, united with the utmost tenderness and gentleness. Here Miss Bradford was initiated into the service of the Sanitary Commission. Not a strong woman, nor experienced in the work of nursing, she proved herself equal to the severe occasion. She gained in physical ability, became a most heroic and accomplished nurse, and remained at her post till her services were no longer needed. Then she was placed in charge of the Soldiers' Home at Washington, where she remained till the close of the war. Her administration was most beneficent and able, and during the two and a half years that she presided over the Home she was the sympathizing friend of thousands of soldiers, who were recovering from sickness or wounds, and to whom she gave cheer and invaluable help.

Mrs. Adeline Tyler, a native of Massachusetts and a long-time resident of Boston, was appointed by Bishop Whittingham of Maryland the superintendent of a Protestant sisterhood, which he had instituted in Baltimore. Its mission was the care of the sick, the relief of want and suffering and the ministration of spiritual comfort. While occupied with the many duties of her position the storm of war broke in fury over the land, and President Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand volunteers for the defence of Washington, which was sorely threatened by Southern secessionists. The Sixth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers, of which the nucleus was the Lowell City Guards, hurrying through the streets of Baltimore in answer to the call of the President, was assailed by a fierce and angry mob, and many were wounded and some were killed.

The dreadful news reached the ears of Mrs. Tyler, or ‘Sister Tyler,’ as she was called, and she hastened to their relief. She found the dead and wounded men in one of the police station-houses, but was peremptorily refused admission by the authorities.

‘I am a Massachusetts woman,’ was her reply, ‘and if I am not allowed to care for these suffering men from my own State, I shall telegraph Governor Andrew, and inform him that my request is denied.’

Her spirited reply produced an effect that her entreaties had failed to accomplish, and after a little consultation she was conducted to the upper room, where the [599] fallen patriots lay. The two who were dead were uncared for, as were the living, who were severely wounded. Their wounds were undressed; all had been drugged to keep them quiet; they were in their uniforms, stiffened with blood; and the broken glass of a bottle, with which one had been beaten, remained in the ghastly wound at the base of the brain, which was constantly irritated by the rough collar of his soldier's overcoat.

It was with difficulty that Mrs. Tyler obtained permission to remove these men to the home of the sisterhood, where they were tenderly nursed till they were able to return to their homes. For her humane work Mrs. Tyler received the personal acknowledgments of Governor Andrew, the President of the Massachusetts Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, while resolutions of thanks were passed by the Legislature and sent her, beautifully engrossed upon parchment and sealed with the seal of the Commonwealth. The Surgeon-General of the United States now urged upon her the superintendence of the Camden Street Hospital in Baltimore, and after a year of service here he removed her to a large and newly established hospital in Chester, Penn., where were a thousand sick and wounded men.

After a year at Chester she was transferred to the Naval School Hospital at Annapolis, filled with poor wrecks of humanity from the prison pens of Andersonville and Belle Isle. Mrs. Tyler found in this hospital such an assemblage of incarnate misery as no language can describe. Filth, disease, starvation and cruelty had wrought a ruinous work upon these hapless men. They were emaciated till only the parchment-like skin covered the protruding bones; many of them had dropped into idiocy and lunacy; most of them were too feeble for any exertion; and the mothers who bore them could not have recognized them.

Mrs. Tyler had many of the wretched men photographed, in their extreme squalor and emaciation, and the government caused a large number of photographs to be made for distribution in America and Europe. In England and on the Continent it was the fashion to treat the exposures of the atrocities of Southern prisons as sensational falsehoods and libels. But these sun pictures were unimpeachable witnesses to the truth of the shocking disclosures of surgeons and nurses, and compelled public belief in their verity. In the midst of this heart-sickening work Mrs. Tyler broke down, and in the summer of 1864 was obliged to leave her post of duty. She was so prostrated by hospital fever as to render her recovery for a time extremely doubtful. She was sent to Europe by her physician as soon as she began to convalesce, but was prostrated by a return of the fever in Paris, and months later in Lucerne, Switzerland, nor was her health re-established until some time after the close of the war.

Mrs. Stephen Barker, the sister of Hon. William Whiting, an Attorney-General of Massachusetts, and whose husband was chaplain of the Fourteenth Massachusetts Infantry, accompanied him to the field and devoted herself to hospital nursing and relief, serving in almost every capacity, and identifying herself with the patients under her care.

Mrs. G. T. M. Davis, a native of Pittsfield, Mass., and the wife of a colonel who served with distinction during the Mexican war, resided in New York City during the civil war. She rendered invaluable aid to the soldiers passing through [600] New York, and never failed to minister to their comfort at the Soldiers' Rest, where they tarried during their stay in the city. She was a constant attendant and nurse at the hospitals at Bedloe's Island, and also at the large general hospital at David's Island. A large proportion of the supplies from Berkshire County, Mass., found their way to these hospitals, and came under the supervision of Mrs. Davis; and in her graphic letters to the county papers she never tired of expatiating on their abundance and excellence.

Miss Mary Dwight Pettes was born in Boston, and was a member of a family noted for generations for intelligence and religious and moral excellence. She chose to enter hospital service in St. Louis, rather than in the east, because the work there was severer and less attractive, and few experienced and trained women had then entered that field. We know little of her life in those western hospitals, save what she revealed in her letters to the ‘Boston Transcript.’ She assisted in the care of the horribly mutilated and frozen soldiers who were brought from the battlefield of Fort Donelson. She was in the hospitals into which the most severely wounded were brought from the Golgothas of Pittsburg Landing and Pea Ridge. Wherever the need was greatest and the relief work required heroic endurance, there Miss Pettes was found, patient, untiring, forgetful of herself, a benediction and an everpresent help.

‘I have never known what human suffering is,’ she wrote, while caring for the wounded and frozen soldiers of Fort Donelson; ‘I have never known what capacities for anguish were enwrapped in the human body, until the victims of the battles of Fort Donelson, Pittsburg Landing and Pea Ridge were placed under my care. What a condensation of horrors is contained in that one word “war” !’ She ministered to others at the cost of her own life. Worn down with work among these dreadful sufferers, breathing steadily the infected air of the tainted wards, she was smitten with typhoid fever, and in the early part of the year 1863 she sank into the arms of death, with words of consolation and sympathy to her patients upon her lips, among whom she fancied herself occupied. Rev. Dr. Eliot of St. Louis sent to the Christian Register of Boston, in May, 1863, a beautiful tribute to this noble Boston girl, who, as he truly said, ‘had died a martyr to the cause of country and liberty quite as much as any of those who fell on the field of battle.’

Lack of space forbids mention of many Massachusetts women whose patriotic record during the war was that of unflinching self-sacrifice and active devotion to the men who were fighting to maintain an intact and undivided republic.

Mrs. Curtis T. Fenn of Pittsfield, Mass., was a leader in Berkshire County, where the women looked to her as their head and worked under her direction. During the war nearly $10,000 worth of supplies from her native county passed directly through her hands to New York, to be used in the hospitals there or forwarded to Washington. She established a resting-place for the weary soldiers passing to and fro through Pittsfield; and when they came in large numbers, she arranged that the women who worked with her should be called to her assistance by the firing of a gun just before the transport train arrived. Then the soldiers were abundantly fed, their knapsacks were packed with food and their canteens filled with milk, tea or coffee; when, refreshed and cheered, they continued their journey. [601]

Mrs. Abbie J. Howe of Brookfield, Mass., is deserving especial mention for her untiring devotion to the sick and wounded under her charge. She was one of that brave corps of women who dared serve in the pestilential wards of the Naval School Hospital at Annapolis, Md., which were filled with the released prisoners from Andersonville and other prisons.

After Mrs. Charlotte E. McKay of Massachusetts had been bereft of her husband by the war, and then of her only child by sickness, she sought comfort in ministering to others more hapless than herself. She accepted an appointment under Miss Dix, and began work in the hospital where the wounded were brought from Winchester, Va. She was assigned later to the hospitals in Frederick City, which were filled with the wounded from Antietam. Then she was transferred to the hospitals at Chancellorsville, and while at her work received the sad news that her brother had fallen in battle under General Hooker. Although not far from him, the exigencies of hospital service were such that she could not even institute a search for his dead body or look the last time on his cold face. She was so efficient a worker and leader, having, as General Birney said, ‘a positive genius for the worst kind of hospital work,’ that she was sent to Gettysburg after the three days battle was over. Here she remained until autumn, laboring zealously and successfully in her hospital, which contained all the time from a thousand to fifteen hundred men, until it was merged in another. She remained in the service until March, 1865, when she went to Virginia to take charge of the schools for the freedmen, remaining there a year.

Among other Massachusetts women who were distinguished as workers in field, camp or army hospitals, were the following, most of whom rendered efficient service at Antietam or at the Naval Academy Hospital at Annapolis, among the wretched Sufferers from Southern prisons: Miss Agnes Gillis of Lowell, Miss Maria Josslyn of Roxbury, Miss Ruth L. Ellis of Bridgewater, Miss Kate P. Thompson of Roxbury, Miss Jennie T. Spaulding and Miss Eudora Clark of Boston, and Miss Sarah Allen of Wilbraham, all of Massachusetts. Miss Thompson was rendered an invalid for life by her labors among the released prisoners. Miss Sophia Knight of South Reading, Mass., served in the western Sanitary Commission, where the need was very urgent and the work most arduous. At the close of the war she accepted an appointment from the New England Freedmen's Aid Society as teacher of the colored people on Edisto Island, South Carolina, in which work she was engaged for many years.

It seems invidious to select these Massachusetts women from the great host of heroic workers, all of whom wrought well, and many of whom performed marvels. Considering their inexperience and lack of training, the paucity of utensils and materials allotted them, rarely sufficient for their work and never in excess, and the demoralized condition of their patients, one is amazed at their large achievements. Many died in the service, and many more were broken down and made invalids for life. Taken as a class, a more unselfish, devoted and patriotic company of women have never lived than were those who worked with the Sanitary Commission during the war, and among them the women of Massachusetts stand pre-eminent. Shall not the Father of us all place on their work the divine estimate long ago expressed [602] in the immortal phrase, ‘Inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these, ye did it unto me?’

note.—Mrs. Livermore having made, in her narrative, no reference to her own services during the civil war, it is proper to supply the omission. Her birth and early education were in Massachusetts; but she was residing in Chicago, Ill., at the beginning of the war, assisting her husband in editorial labors; and she became in 1862 an agent of the north-western Sanitary Commission. She travelled through the north-western States, organizing local branches of that body, attended a council of the national organization at Washington in December, and in the spring was detailed for the sanitary inspection of the hospitals and military posts on the Mississippi, in which office she rendered very great service in the collection of supplies and their distribution, and in bringing squads of invalids northward. Later, she was one of the chief organizers of the great north-western sanitary fair in Chicago, which yielded nearly $100,000 for the association; and it was she who obtained from President Lincoln the original draft of his Emancipation Proclamation, which was sold for $3,000 at this fair.

T. W. H.

Names of cities and towns of Massachusetts where soldiers' aid societies were organized that Contributed to the Sanitary Commission.


Abington Centre.












Athol Depot.






























Centre Northbridge.










Cotuit Port.






Dorchester Lower Mills.





East Boston.

East Bridgewater.

East Cambridge.

East Granville.

East Medway.


East Pembroke.

East Randolph.

East Saugus.

East Walpole.

East Wareham.





Fall River.









Globe Village.



Great Barrington.



Groton Centre.

Groton Junction.











Holmes Holl.



Ipswich. [603]

Jamaica Plain.

Joppa Village.









Lincoln Centre.












Marston's Mills.







Middlesex Village.




Mill River Village.


Milton Hill.








New Bedford.

New Braintree.

New Marlborough.

New Salem.



Newton Corner.

Newton Lower Falls.

Newton Upper Falls.


North Abington.

North Adams.


North Andover.

North Attleborough.

North Billerica.



North Bridgewater.

North Brookfield.

North Cambridge.

North Chelsea.

North Easton.

North Leominster.

North Leverett.

North Marshfield.

North Rehoboth.

North Scituate.

North Sharon.

North Woburn.

North Wrentham.










Pigeon Cove.
















Saugus Centre.






Shelburne Falls.



Shirley Village.




South Abington.

South Adams.

South Ashfield.

South Berlin.


South Boston.


South Danvers.

South Dedham.

South Framingham.

South Groton.

South Hanover.

South Harwich.

South Hingham.

South Milford.

South Natick.

South Royalston.

South Scituate.

South Somerset.

South Sterling.

South Stoughton.

South Weymouth.



Sudbury Centre.


Swanzey Village.






Townsend Harbor.












Weir Village.

West Amesbury.


West Boylston.

West Bridgewater.

West Brookfield.

West Cambridge.

West Dedham.

West Dracut.


West Fitchburg.


West Hingham.

West Medford.


West Newton.


West Roxbury.

West Scituate.

West Tisbury.







Woburn Centre.



Yarmouth Port.

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Dorothea L. Dix (9)
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