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Mary Ann Bickerdyke Civil War Nurse biography
During the period of the American Civil War there were many tough determined men ready to do whatever had to be done. There were also many tough and determined women ready to do what had to be done. One such woman was called Mary Ann (Mother) Bickerdyke. She was called Mother because she became “Mother to the boys in Blue.”
She was born July 19, 1817 in Mt. Vernon, Ohio and died November 8, 1901 of a stroke in Bunker Hill, Kansas. She was buried in Galesburg, Illinois where she and her husband made a home.Her mother died when she was an infant and her grandparents raised her on a farm. When her grandparents died an uncle took her in. She traveled the Midwest with her aunt, an evangelist preacher. Upon reaching adulthood she worked as a domestic servant, Then married Robert Bickerdyke when she was thirty and they eventually settled in Galesburg, Illinois. Her husband died there and left her with two children to support. She then worked as a maid and did laundry. She metEdward Beecher, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe at the Congregational church where he was pastor. After her daughter died as an infant, she became interested in reading about health issues.
Not a lot is known about her early life and education. It is thought that she might have attended nursing school at Oberlin College. It is also possible, but unknown if she helped care for victims of cholera epidemics in Cincinnati in 1837 and 1849. It was shortly after the start of the Civil War that Rev. Beecher got a letter telling about the poor medical care for the Union soldiers. He mentioned the fact in a sermon, which influenced Mary Ann who decided to do something about it. With her leadership there was a drive to collect medical supplies in her town, which she delivered to the nearest Union base, in Cairo, Illinois.Conditions in the camp’s medical clinic disturbed her and she refused to leave, although it was in violation of regulations. She washed soldiers bedding and clothes as well as cook meals and clean wounds. She even got a small staff of lady volunteers who helped improve standards of cleanliness but also improved morale and recovery rates.
Her Clash With Authority
She had to fight with authorities when she first went to Cairo, Illinois because women were not allowed into army camps without permission and nobody wanted to give permission. She knew her services were needed to help the soldiers so she persisted. Army doctors at that time were more concerned about amputations and reducing pain and not so concerned about clean water, fresh air, nutrition, and sanitation. As Bickerdyke made changes soldiers started to recover faster. Later, when a military hospital was started in Cairo, she became the matron.
After a while she followed the troops into battle areas and worked in field hospitals with doctors who would perform quick surgeries. She and her recruits provided food for the wounded soldiers, cleaned blood from them and cut off dirty uniforms and replaced them with hospital garments.
She gained prestige during the Civil War, setting up hospitals and traveling with the Union army and improving conditions for wounded soldiers. Although the military discouraged her activities in the beginning, she gained the admiration of Generals Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman.
As the Union Army moved on, she moved with them. Gradually she started getting more help from army officials She finally got official recognition in 1862 when she was given a job paying 50 dollars a month as a sanitary field agent. It also had the advantage that she could get supplies from the Sanitary Commissions stores and not have to depend on donations for supplies. General Grant also gave her a pass to travel freely among the troops.
She did follow Grant’s Army to the battles of Shiloh and to Corinth where she opened another field hospital. She then went to Memphis and to the battle of Vicksburg, where she decided to join Sherman’s Army’s march to Chattanooga. Once in Chattanooga she argued with Sherman about being allowed to travel with the army on their march to Atlanta and Savannah. She went along to Atlanta but Sherman would not let her go on to Savanna.
During the remainder of the war she traveled with different sections of the Union Army and helped to set up hospitals and care for the wounded. After the war she stayed on as an army nurse until she resigned March 21, 1866.
Her sons sent her to San Francisco when her own health was failing. She helped war veterans while she was there. She also got a patronage job with the San Francisco mint and was able to help veterans get their pensions.
Information for this hub was gleaned from NNDB.com article on Mary Ann Bickerdyke, BookRags article World of Health on Mary Ann Bickerdyke, and biography.com
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© 2011 Don A. Hoglund