So…I decided to read Sophronia E. Bucklin’s memoir over the next few weeks. If you want to get the free e-book and join me for a read-along, we’ll read two chapters each week, and on Sunday mornings, I’ll post my “scrapbook” of notes, relevant photos, and quotes that seemed particularly insightful.
It is a medial memoir. You’ve been warned.
Let’s get started with…
It’s so important to note the first sentence of a book:
WHEN, in the complexity of national affairs, it became necessary for armed men to assemble in multitudes, to become exposed to the hardships and privations of camps and the deadly peril of battle ?elds, there arose the same necessity for woman to lend her helping hand to bind up the wounds of the shattered soldier, and smooth the hard pillow of the dying hero.
Does it sound like she is putting a twist on the opening line of the Declaration of Independence? Miss Bucklin is certainly declaring female nurses’ purpose in the Civil War.
As we continue reading, here comes the argument against women’s involvement in hospital and military medicine in mid-19th Century America. “It is no place for a woman.” Unsurprisingly, the women pushed back, pointing out that medical care had been a long-standing role for a homemaker who was usually required to tend to all family illnesses with or without the aid of a physician. They also used the idealized role of women as the keepers of morality and bringing the grace of home life to counter other arguments.
Dorothea Dix – here’s her photograph from between 1850 and 1855!
I really like how this book is pointing out the differences between government and commission nurses. The government nurses reported to Dorothea Dix (or her “department”) while nurses with the U.S, Sanitary Commission or U.S. Christian Commission volunteered and had a different system of “reporting.” The introduction was a little harsh toward Commission nurses and gave the impression that their experiences was an extended vacation to Washington D.C. Certainly some had that experience, but other commission nurses went to the frontline field hospitals and transportation stations like government nurses and worked tirelessly.
Miss Bucklin on a train, headed for Washington D.C., just as the Battle of Antietam is ending had these feelings:
I pondered upon my situation—a Government nurse—alone amidst strangers—a novice in scenes of suffering and death—swiftly driving along to meet that from which my soul would recoil in terror—and thus the daylight greeted my eyes. The streaks of crimson ?ushing up the East, revealed to me the ?rst warlike sight in a camp of soldiers just waking from sleep. My heart began to sicken.
Take particular note of her emphasis that she traveled alone. Prior to the Civil War, that wasn’t really something women did.
Washington D.C. (or Washington City as it was called in the 1860’s) had many hospitals that were built during the war and treated at least 20,000 soldiers. Prior to the Civil War, hospitals were not popular and were seen as the place were “poor people” went for charity medical aid. The Civil War helped change that impression of hospitals, and in the post-war era, cities established hospitals that were frequented by members of all levels of society in need of medical aid.
I haven’t found a photo of Judiciary Square Hospital using my usual links and archive sources, so I’ll keep digging. But…apparently the site was used for temporary pavilions and events prior to the war and hospital usage. This sketch shows the 1857 Inaugural Ball held in Judiciary Square.
The hospital was operational from March 1862 through July 1865. If this website is correct, then this is the location of the hospital on the modern map:
Miss Bucklin detailed what she saw and how she felt as she arrived at that first hospital:
IN the sinking of heart which fell upon me, as I saw the great stretch of low unpainted buildings, which ?lled the space at my side, it was necessary to summon all the latent courage in my soul be fore I could gain courage enough to enter. Some how I knew I must be sustained, I should not be forsaken for doing my plain duty, and I gave myself up to the drifting current. ‘ It was of my own seeking ; I had been eager to lend myself to the glorious cause of Freedom, and now, on the threshold of the hospital in which gaping wounds, and fevered, thirsting lips awaited me, telling their ghastly tales of the bloody battle, my cheek ?ushed, and my hand grew hot and trembling. Weak ?esh and timid heart would have counseled ?ight, but a strong will held them in abeyance, and the doors opened to receive me.
Her training as a nurse officially started.
Reading and notes to be continued next Sunday morning…