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.

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."

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