Civil War Nursing

Civil War Nursing


Women and sometimes Men played a major role in nursing and sanitation efforts during the Civil War, paving the way for their entry into the nursing profession in greater numbers after the war, as well as paving the way for further professionalization of the nursing field.

Stories about Civil War Nursing

Mary Ashton Rice Livermore (December 19, 1820-May 23, 1905)

    Was a key organizer for the United States Sanitary Commission during the Civil War. Afterwards, she became a leader of the woman suffrage and temperance movements, and a popular lecturer on social reform. Her husband, Daniel Parker Livermore (1818-1899) was a Universalist minister, a social activist, an editor, and a writer. Their lives and careers were inextricably linked from the time of their first meeting in 1843 until Daniel's death.

    Living in the South she learned that slavery was as "demoralizing and debasing" to white slaveowners as it was hard and painful for blacks. One experience in particular, witnessing the brutal whipping of a cooper named Matt, rendered her ill for days afterward. By the time she returned to New England, Mary was an ardent abolitionist.

    In 1857, frustrated with parish life, the couple moved with their two surviving daughters to Chicago while Daniel explored the possibility of moving to Kansas to help establish an anti-slavery colony. However, the serious illness of their younger daughter, Marcia Elizabeth, caused them to abandon the plan, and they made Chicago their home for the next thirteen years. During this period Daniel bought and edited a reform-centered Universalist newspaper, the New Covenant, wrote several books on Universalist theology, helped organize the Northwestern Conference of Universalists, went on numerous preaching missions, and held several brief part-time pastorates in the area.

    It was during this period that Mary, with Daniel's help and encouragement, came into her own as a competent, self-confident woman with an important role to play in the reshaping of society. A turning point came when, during a cholera epidemic in the city, she determined to stay and volunteer her help rather than leaving Daniel and fleeing with her daughters. She quickly developed organizational skills, and when the Civil War broke out she was recruited by Henry Whitney Bellows, head of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, to become co-ordinator of the Northwestern branch. During the next four years she organized a far-flung volunteer support network for the Union hospitals, visited the hospitals, wrote letters "by the thousands" for soldiers, escorted wounded soldiers from hospitals to their homes, and raised large sums of money in support of the Commission's work.

    During the war, Mary became "aware that a large portion of the nation's work was badly done, or not done at all, because woman was not recognized as a factor in the political world. . . . [M]en and women should stand shoulder to shoulder, equal before the law." Women, she concluded, needed the right to vote. When the war ended, Mary rose to leadership in the woman suffrage movement, writing and traveling widely as she lectured and chaired meetings. In 1868 she organized the first woman suffrage convention held in Chicago.

    BORN: Dec. 18, 1820

    DIED: May 23, 1905

    BURIED: Wyoming Cemetery
    Middlesex County

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