Southern Matrons: Civil War Women Nurses (part five)

In the Hospital
William Ludwell Sheppard’s watercolor In the Hospital (1861) pays tribute to the women of the South who cared for the war’s wounded

Editor’s Note: In 2013, Virginia Bensen penned a series about female Civil War nurses. Some of those articles remain among our most read, even to this day. As sometimes happens, life got in the way for Virginia, who had to take a leave of absence from ECW for a while. Today, we are pleased to welcome her back with a new installment.

As with the Northern Civil War nurses, Southern nurses usually confined their duties to providing religious counsel, aiding the mortally wounded soldier to face a “good death,” and writing about that death to the family.

  • In the South, military nurses were men; women were called matrons.
  • Who were Southern matrons?
    • White wealthy women
    • White working women
    • African-American free women
    • African-American slaves
    • Catholic Nuns

  • Duties varied, depending on whether the matron was serving in a large Confederate hospital or in the field. In the field, there was more varied work, and harder or labor-intensive work.
  • Women’s hospital workers’ jobs were more domestic than medical.
  • Majority of Southern matrons were volunteers, and were mostly the women who lived near the battle location. They assumed all the roles and duties of the hospital workers, including foraging for food and supplies.
  • Confederate field nurses/matrons were volunteers, and were mostly the women who lived near the battle location. They assumed all the roles and duties of the hospital works, including foraging for food and supplies.

Women Hospital Workers in the Confederacy

Title Pay per Month
Chief Matron $40
Assistant Matron $35
Ward Matron $30
Cooks $25

Duties of Hospital Workers

Title Duties
Matron (All) ·       Washed, dressed, and fed patients

·       Wrote letters

·       Read to patients

·       Helped patients to endure boring covalence

·       Did other duties as required including cooking and laundry

Cooks (Usually African-American) ·       Cooked for the patients including special diets
Laundress ·       Washed patients clothing and bed-cloths as well as bedding.

Interesting Sources for Southern Civil War Nurses

H. Cunningham, Doctors in Grey, The Confederate Medical Service, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1958).

T.C. DeLeon, Belles Beaux and Brains of the 60’s, (New York: G. W. Dillingham Company, 1907). Available free through Google e-books.

Lee, Mrs. Hugh Holmes. The Civil War Journal of Mary Greenhow Lee. Edited by Eloise C. Strader. Winchester, VA: Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, 2011.

Mary Louise Marshall, “Nurse Heroines of the Confederacy,” Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 45, no. 3, (1957), 319-336.

Phoebe Yates Pember, A Southern Woman’s Story: Life in Confederate Richmond, edited by Bell Irvin Wiley, (Wilmington, NC: Barefoot Publishing Company,1991.

Jane E. Schultz, Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in the Civil War America, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

4 Responses to Southern Matrons: Civil War Women Nurses (part five)

  1. Welcome back! I enjoy your posts. Watching Mercy Street on Sunday’s and your post help understand it.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!