During the 150th anniversary of one of the most tumultuous times in our history, explore how the Civil War — and the ordinary, mostly unprepared, men and women who cared for the injured — launched the modern profession of nursing.
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Civil War-Era Nurses
Before she established her greatest legacy, the American Red Cross, Clara Barton assisted Civil War surgeons as they amputated limbs, helping dress wounds with linen bandages she brought to replace the corn husks in use.
Mary Ann Bickerdyke
Portrayed as a fierce patient advocate, Mary Ann Bickerdyke was one of the few Civil War lay nurses with significant patient care experience outside the home.
By the time Dorothea Dix offered her services and was appointed superintendent of Union army nurses during the Civil War, she was 59 and already renowned as a reformer and advocate for prisoners and the mentally ill.
Phoebe Yates Pember
By the time Phoebe Yates Pember ended her service as matron of Chimborazo Hospital in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Va., she had looked after more than 15,000 patients.
Susie King Taylor
Susie King Taylor, born a slave in Savannah, Ga., was one of very few black Civil War nurses — some accounts say the only one — to have written about her life and work.
Affluent 28-year-old Sally Tompkins used money from her inheritance to open and equip a private house for use as a private hospital, where she she made sure her patients were well fed and comfortable, treating them as honored guests.
Though Harriet Tubman is best known for guiding slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad and for her civil rights efforts after the war, she also served during the war as a nurse, scout and spy for the Union.
Though he was never appointed as a nurse, the poet Walt Whitman spent months during the war doing the same type of hospital work as many educated Union women who volunteered as nurses.
It was an impromptu speech at an anti-slavery rally in Nantucket, Mass., in the summer of 1841 that would thrust Frederick Douglass onto the world stage and cast him as the foremost agitator for civil and human rights. His great-great-great grandson talks of carrying on the legacy.