Women: An Essential Part of the Civil War

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Women became an essential part of the Civil War. They took roles as nurses, spies, and even soldiers. Dorothea Lynde Dix (1802-1887) was an author, teacher, and a reformer. As a reformer, Dix created dozens of institutions for prisoners and mentally ill in the United States and Europe. She greatly helped improve the common people’s perception of these populations. During the Civil War, she helped with military hospital administration and worked as an advocate for female nurses. Dix gave up her time and volunteered to organize and outfit the Union Army hospitals in April 1861. As Superintendent of Women Nurses, Dix oversaw the entire nursing staff. She was the first woman to serve in such a high, federally appointed position. Her administrative skills were highly needed to control the flow of clothing and bandages as the war progressed. Army officials and female nurses were highly intimidated by her and were fearful of her. They eventually got Dix removed from her position in 1863. After being ousted, she returned to reforming the treatment of the mentally ill.

Dorothea Lynde Dix
Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) was a former slave who escaped slavery in 1849 at the age of 29. Harriet was passionate about saving other slaves from slavery. She began the Underground Railroad and helped lead over 300 slaves to freedom. Union officers recruited Harriet as a spy shortly after she volunteered to cook and be a nurse at a military hospital. She became the first woman to help lead a military expedition. She assisted Colonel James Montgomery plan a night raid to free slaves working at rice plantations along the Combahee River. Harriet and several black soldiers traveled up the river and freed around 750 slaves on June 1, 1863.

Harriet Tubman
Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) was a prominent American author who wrote over 30 books in her lifetime. She is greatly remembered for her book Hospital Sketches, which she wrote to home while serving as an army nurse during the Civil War. Growing up, her home was a stop on the Underground Railroad and this helped her realize the effects of slavery on these slaves. She wanted to help in any way she could. In December 1862, Alcott left for the Union hospital in Georgetown, outside of Washington, DC, to become a nurse. She had no formal training as a nurse and no formal training was required. The only requirements were to be sober minded, mature, and plain-looking.
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