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, 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/


  1. Nice review. Louisa May Alcott could not be discussed as she was not there during the time period. She did not arrive at the Union Hotel until I believe 1863. You will note the subtle nod to Ms Alcott in that Mary inhabited the same room that Ms. Alcott would eventually write about, mouse and all.

  2. 47Rah is correct, somewhat. Louisa May Alcott did not work in the UHH until the end of 1862, after Mary's fictional tenure there. And Hanna Ropes is mentioned in the book. She is placed in charge of the hospital when it is reopened when Dorothea Dix cannot find her. I made certain that these historical women received notice even though they could not have interacted with Mary in the interests of historical accuracy. The other nurses who are mentioned come from an actual list of female nurses that I found at the National Arcives.