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Mary Ann Bickerdyke Civil War Nurse biography

Updated on October 27, 2014
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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.

Authors Note:

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

Your comments are invited

I hope you find this hub intereesting. Please leave comments and vote for it.

© 2011 Don A. Hoglund

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    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      aesta1, there were women who accomplished thingss in our history but have been somewhat ignored or missed by those who write history. Thanks for commenting.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Women of courage and commitment. Thanks for posting this here. It gives us an idea of how women helped especially to save lives.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      nee

      Thank you for commenting.I try to tell about figures who are not generally known.

    • profile image

      nee 5 years ago

      She changed her world , with compassion and iron will . Thank you for giving this empowerment.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      femmeflashpoint,

      Once in awhile I run across someone in history that strikes me as being special.I guess we would call her feisty in our day.I'm glad you liked it.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      femmeflashpoint,

      Once in awhile I run across someone in history that strikes me as being special.I guess we would call her feisty in our day.I'm glad you liked it.

    • profile image

      femmeflashpoint 5 years ago

      In her photo, Mother Bickerdyke looks quite sad. However, I'd think she DID have reason to feel sad. Travelling with the military and treating sick and injured had to cause some wear and tear on her mental health, which makes her that much more impressive an appreciated.

      I also loved the part of the article stating that she challenged the authorities. Good for her! And, obviously, even better for the soldiers!

      An inspiring life this lady led, and sadly I never knew of her until I saw this hub.

      Thank you so much for putting it together. You did a beautiful job. :)

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading and commenting.She was an interesting person.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 6 years ago from California

      I think women today could take a lesson from Mary Ann.

      I enjoyed this hub. Voted up and interesting

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting.I think it is for any of us to imagine life at that time.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image

      CASE1WORKER 6 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      I cannot imagine what women like this had to face and the courage that they needed to remain hopeful in the face of such adversity.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Not only were women and some other groups not talked about, but usually only leaders were noted.For myself the advent of social history makes it much more interesting. I don't think I got much of any history in high school, come to think of it.Thanks for commenting.

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      When I was taught history in high school there were never any women in the lessons. I guess that's because the books were written from a certain point of view - and it is a long time since I was in high school!

      Thanks for an interesting hub.

    • dahoglund profile image
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      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I'm glad you liked this hub.Sometimes a story that seems to need to be told presents itself..Thanks for commenting.You may not have gotten the previous hub either so I put a link below just in case.

      https://hubpages.com/literature/Ed-Visits-His-Pa-A...

    • TheManWithNoPants profile image

      TheManWithNoPants 6 years ago from Tucson, Az.

      What an awesome lady. I was raised by a woman that became my hero. She was tough, smart, and had more character and guts than any man I've known. Mary Ann was truly a hero, and this was an excellent read.

      jim

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      When I ran across a reference to her in a book I knew that I had never heard of her. I guessed that most people now have not despite the fact that she was well known at the time.I'm glad that you found it a good read.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      What a wonderful hub about Mary Ann Bickerdyke and her work as a nurse during the Civil War. Thanks for introducing the work that she accomplished to those of us (like me) who never heard of her. She was certainly an innovative thinker and worker in that day and age! Up, useful and interesting votes from me.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thank you for commenting.I only ran across this woman by accident and decided to do some research about her.

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 6 years ago from New York

      I never knew this and I love history. The Civil War is a fascinating time,I love articles from that era. Very nice.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      prasetio,

      Thank you for the good words. Writing is a constant learning experience. I found out about this woman in a footnote in a book about "Pioneer Women" She was well known in her day but not so much now.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Tamarajo

      Thanks for reading the hub and commenting.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      My brother, you have done a great job here. Again and again, I always love your hub and you open my eyes about biography of great woman. Nurse is an amazing job where we can help people, it's need a big sacrifice. Vote up and God bless you!

      Love and peace,

    • Tamarajo profile image

      Tamarajo 6 years ago

      An admirable woman. Thank you for sharing her story. I enjoyed it.

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for reading it. I ran across a reference to her in a book and decided to look her up.

    • profile image

      Marie Brannon 6 years ago

      Another awesome woman! Very interesting and inspiring. I do love historical biographies!

    • dahoglund profile image
      Author

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for the comment.I think what I liked about her was she could talk truth to power. The soldiers needed her and she confronted the authorities to change the rules.

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 6 years ago from United States

      Great hub on Mother Bickerdyke. What I found most interesting was not only how she assisted the Union during the Civil War but the tragedies she faced in her own personal life. She endured a great deal and was still able to help others. Fascinating story.

      Thanks for sharing this information of a great heroine. Voted up, up and away!