Mary Ann Bickerdyke (1817-1901) - Known
as Mother Bickerdyke, she was an energetic heroine whose sole aim during
was to more efficiently care for wounded Union soldiers. Born in Knox
County, Ohio, to Hiram Ball and Annie Rodgers Ball, she later moved to
Widowed two years before the war began, she supported herself and her two
half-grown sons by practicing as a "botanic physician" in Galesburg.
When a young Union volunteer physician wrote
home about the filthy, chaotic military hospitals at
Galesburg's citizens collected $500 worth of supplies and selected
Bickerdyke to deliver them.
She stayed in Cairo
as an unofficial nurse, and through her unbridled energy and dedication
she organized the hospitals and gained
Ulysses S. Grant's appreciation. Here, she also worked alongside another famed
Nurse, Mary J. Stafford. When
Grant's army moved down the
Mississippi River, Bickerdyke went too, becoming the Chief of Nursing and setting up
hospitals where they were needed.
Mary Ann Bickerdyke by A.H.
She was adamant about cleanliness, dedicated
to improving the level of care, and unafraid of stepping on male toes. She
insisted on scrubbing every surface in sight, would report drunken
physicians, and on one occasion ordered a staff member, who had illegally
appropriated garments meant for the wounded, to strip. Though she
antagonized male physicians, staff, and soldiers alike, in the name of
better patient care, she won most of her fights.
William T. Sherman
was especially fond of the volunteer nurse who
followed the western armies, and supposedly she was the only woman he
would allow in his camp. When his staff complained about the outspoken,
insubordinate female nurse who consistently disregarded the army's red
tape and military procedures,
threw up his hands and exclaimed, "Well, I
can do nothing for you, she outranks me."
Running roughshod over anyone who stood in the
way of her self-appointed duties, when a surgeon questioned her authority
to take some action, she replied, "On the authority of Lord God Almighty,
have you anything that outranks that?"
She was known affectionately to her "boys",
the grateful enlisted men, as "Mother" Bickerdyke and the soldiers would
cheer here when she appeared.
During the war, she worked closely with Eliza
Emily Chappell Porter of the Northwest Sanitary Commission, worked on the
first hospital boat, helped build 300 hospitals and aided the wounded on
19 battlefields including the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Vicksburg,
and Sherman's March to the Sea.
When the war was over, she rode at the head of
the XV Corps in the Grand Review in Washington at
William T. Sherman's request.
Afterwards, she worked for the Salvation Army
in San Francisco, and became an attorney, helping Union veterans with
legal issues. Later, she ran a hotel in Salina, Kansas for a time before
retiring to Bunker Hill, Kansas.