Welcome to the Falmouth Library's page designed to shed light on the role women played in the American Civil War. As we approach the Sesquicentennial of the War, we will be sharing resources and information about this topic, focusing specifically on the role Maine women played during the war.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Union Hotel Hospital Revisited

I recently reviewed the book My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira and was surprised and chagrined to almost immediately receive 2 comments that pointed out my error concerning the staffing of the hospital. One comment came from the author of the book!  I knew that Hannah Ropes and Louisa May Alcott both served at the hospital at the same time, so I mistakenly assumed the fictional Mary Sutter was there, as well. Alas, I didn't check my dates before hitting the "publish" button. My critics were correct, of course. The fictional Mary Sutter was decidedly at the hospital and gone before Hannah (and then later) Louisa May showed up.  Robin Oliveira's research was impeccable.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mary Sutter

My Name is Mary Sutter is a work of fiction by Robin Oliveira published by Viking in 2010. The tale begins in 1861 just as the Civil War is beginning. Mary is a midwife in Albany, New York, with aspirations to become a surgeon. Mary faced seemingly unsurmountable barriers to her aspirations. The medical college would not let her enroll and a local surgeon she hoped would take her on as an apprentice, was leaving for the war. The war, however gave her new opportunities to expand her horizons. Mary did what many women of that time did: left home and went to volunteer as a nurse. Even that was filled with obstacles. At last she found a post at the Union Hotel Hospital, one of the first hospitals established during the war by the army.  The author's description of life in those times, travel, conditions of Washington, and even the description of the Union Hotel Hospital are quite accurate. The author clearly did a lot of research. Only the fact that the book reads like Mary, Doctor Stipp and hundreds of patients were the only people inhabiting the hospital seems somewhat wrong. All other nurses and personnel are kept in the background. I am surprised that the author did not make reference to Louisa May Alcott (who also worked there for a short time), nor did she make any reference to Hannah Ropes, the matron of the hospital who was from Maine, who died there. In fact, as dire as the conditions are that the author describes in this story, the actual Union Hotel Hospital may have been even worse. Despite hardship, heart-break, and more, Mary perserveres, as did several other women who were able to become surgeons based on their experiences during the war. This is a great read for those interested in the role of women during the Civil War and I highly recommend it. For more information about the author and her research visit:  http://www.robinoliveira.com/

Friday, June 17, 2011

More on Esther Graves

I heard back from the National Archives where I had requested Esther Graves' penion record. They were very sorry, but apparently, when they did a search, all they found was a note that her documents had gone missing in 1910.  How disappointing!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bowdoinham Heroine

Esther Graves of Bowdoinham was a Civil War nurse that I recently became acquainted with. I had heard stories of a "Miss Graves" from Maine that served as a nurse, but I couldn't find any more than that until recently someone identified her as being from Bowdoinham. With that clue, I was able to find much more information about her.  Esther Graves was born January 28, 1821 and died in January of 1889. She served  first as a field nurse with the 3rd Maine Regiment and then with the 7th Brigade Hospital near Alexandria, Virginia. She eventually made her way south to South Carolina and Port Royal Island. She is spoken of as the "Florence Nightingale" of Maine and "Bowdoinham's most noble and patriotic woman" in The History of Bowdoinham by Silas Adams.  I have sent for more information from the National Archives and if I find out more, I will let you all know.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Creation of the US Sanitary Commission

On June 18, 1861,  President Lincoln signed a bill making the United States Sanitary Commission an official government agency to see to the welfare of the troops. Even as he signed it, he had his doubts.  He was afraid that the Sanitary Commission could well become the "fifth wheel to the coach," obviously not convinced of the need for the relief efforts advocate Henry Bellows outlined. Lincoln would soon change his mind. During the next four years the volunteer work of thousands of women, many working with the U.S. Sanitary Commission, would cut the disease rate of the Union Army in half, and raise more than twenty-five million dollars in money, goods and services to support the Northern war effort. In a nation that had no medical association, no nursing schools, and suddenly a huge strain on all medical and hospital services, the US Sanitary Commission proved indispensible as it mobilized resources on behalf of the troops.  But in the beginning, it was a struggle. The agency had no real authority. It was an uphill battle to convince military officials and the medical department, such as it was, to even admit that they needed help.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mother Bickerdyke

Mary Ann Bickerdyke was not a Mainer, but her story exemplifies what many Maine women went through in their own efforts to help the poor, sick soldiers. She was born in July 1817 in Knox County, Ohio. She and her husband, Robert, who was 20 years her senior, moved to Galesburg, Ill. where he died a couple of years before the war began. She turned to medicine to support herself and her two sons.

At a church service at the start of the Civil War, the Reverend Edward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, read a letter from a doctor describing the deplorable conditions in the hospital at Cairo, Illinois. Soldiers were dying of disease before ever entering the fighting due to lack of supplies and care. “What man can we send?” he asked, but he was greeted by silence until a woman suggested Mary Ann Bickerdyke. “If you’re willing to take care of my boys, I will go,” she said.

Thus began an amazing career. She cared for the soldiers in Cairo and went on to care for Union soldiers across the South. She followed General Grant and then General Sherman and his troops and became known as "Mother" Bickerdyke. She was often in conflict with officers and military protocol, but beloved by the common soldiers. Both General Grant and General Sherman supported her to their fullest. When one Union officer complained about her, Sherman told him to take it up with President Lincoln, because, "She outranks me." He was referring to the common belief that her commission came directly from God. November 8, 1901 she died at her home where she was then living in Kansas. Her gravestone has the epitaph, "She outranks me."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Call to Arms!

On April 12, 1861 Confederates fired upon Union held Fort Sumter. President Lincoln responded by calling for 75,000 troops to protect and preserve the Union. To commemorate the beginning of the sesquicentenial of the American Civil War, the Maine State Archives is hosting a grand event in Augusta this coming Friday, April 15. The event is entitled "Saving the Union; the Call for Volunteers." It will be held at the Augusta Civic Center beginning at 1pm and is free and open to the public. Included will be readings of historical documents, music of the era, Civil War reenactors and much more. This is the first of a series of events being planned that will extend through the 4 year interval that the war lasted and will highlight the wonderful collection of Civil War documents and photos that are included in the Maine State Archives collection.