Bickerdyke, Mary

Bickerdyke, (Mary Ann b. Ball) “Mother”

(1817–1901) nurse, humanitarian; born in Knox County, Ohio. A farmer's daughter with little formal education, at age 42 she was left a widow with three children. She supported herself by practicing "botanic" medicine, and when the Civil War broke out she volunteered to work in the hospitals at the great Union army base in Cairo, Ill. From then until the surrender at Appomattox, she worked tirelessly as a nurse and caregiver both in battle and behind the lines, taking time out only to give speeches and gain support for the Sanitary Commission. Outspoken in her impatience with military regulations and officials, she became known as "Mother" Bickerdyke and gained the support of men such as Grant and Sherman. After the war, she worked for various social service causes—a Chicago home for indigent women, a project to settle veterans in Kansas, the Salvation Army in San Francisco, and always on behalf of veterans. Receiving a special pension from Congress in 1886, she retired to Kansas in 1887.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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