Saturday, July 17, 2010

Woman’s Work in the Civil War, Elizabeth Mendenhall of Cincinnati

I have, in various pieces, most pages of an antique book, published in 1867 by Zeigler, McCurdy & Co, and entitled Woman's Work in the Civil War. In it, I found a couple references to local women of the period.

I take the following profile, of Mrs. Elizabeth S. Mendenhall, from pages 617-620 of this work.

This lady and Mrs. George Hoadly, were the active and efficient managers of the Soldiers' Aid Society, of Cincinnati, which bore the same relations to the branch of the United States Sanitary Commission, at Cincinnati, which the Woman's Central Association of Relief did to the Sanitary Commission itself. Mrs. Mendenhall is the wife of Dr. George Mendenhall, an eminent and public-spirited citizen of Cincinnati. Mrs. Mendenhall was born in Philadelphia, in 1819, but her childhood and youth were passed in Richmond, Virginia, where a sister, her only near relative, still resides. Her relatives belonged to the society of Friends, and though living in a slave-holding community, she grew up with an abhorrence of slavery. On her marriage, in 1838, she removed with her husband to Cleveland, Ohio, and subsequently to Cincinnati, where she has since resided, and where her hatred of oppression increased in intensity.

When the first call for troops was made in April, 1861, and thenceforward throughout the summer and autumn of that year, and the winter of 1861-2, she was active in organizing sewing circles and aid societies to make the necessary clothing and comforts which the soldiers so much needed when suddenly called to the field. She set the example of untiring industry in these pursuits, and by her skill in organizing g and systematizing their labor, rendered them highly efficient. In February, 1862, the sick and wounded began to pour into the government hospitals of Cincinnati , from the siege of Fort Donelson, and ere these were fairly convalescent, still greater numbers came from Shiloh; and from that time forward, till the close of the war, the hospitals were almost constantly filled with sick or wounded soldiers. To these suffering heroes Mrs. Mendenhall devoted herself with the utmost assiduity. For two and a half years from the reception of the first wounded from Fort Donelson, she spent half of every day, and frequently the whole day, in personal ministrations to the sick and wounded in any capacity that could add to their comfort. She procured necessaries and luxuries for the sick, waited upon them, wrote letters for them, consoled the dying, gave information to their friends of their condition, and attended to the necessary preparations for the burial of the dead. During the four years of the war she was not absent from the city for pleasure but six days, and during the whole period there were not more than ten days in which she did not perform some labor for the soldiers' comfort.

Her field of labor was in the four general hospitals in the city, but principally in the Washington Park Hospital, over which Dr. J. B. Smith, who subsequently fell a martyr to his devotion to the soldiers, presided, who gave her ample opportunities for doing all for the patients which her philanthropic spirit prompted. During all this time she was actively engaged in the promotion of the objects of the4 Women's Soldiers' Aid Society, of which, she was at this time, president, having been from the first an officer. The enthusiasm manifested in the northwest in behalf of the Sanitary Fair at Chicago, led Mrs. Mendenhall to believe that a similar enterprise would be feasible in Cincinnati, which should draw its supplies and patrons from all portions of the Ohio valley. With her a generous and noble thought was sure to be followed by action equally generous and praiseworthy. She commenced at once the agitation of the subject in the daily papers of the city, her first article appearing in the Times, of October 31, 1863, and being followed by others from her pen in the other loyal papers of the city. The idea was received with favor, and on the7th of November an editorial appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette, entitled "Who Speaks for Cincinnati?" This resulted in a call the next day for a meeting of gentlemen to consider the subject. Committees were appointed, an organization effected and circulars issued on the 13th of November. On the 19th, the ladies met, and Mrs. Mendenhall was unanimously chosen President of the ladies' committee, and subsequently second Vice-President of the General Fair organization, General Rosecrans being President and the Mayor of the city, first Vice-President. To the furtherance of this work, Mrs. Mendenhall devoted all her energies. Eloquent appeals from her facile pen were addressed to loyal and patriotic men and women all over the country, and a special circular and appeal to the patriotic young ladies of Cincinnati and the Ohio valley for their hearty co-operation in the good work. The correspondence and supervision of that portion of the fair which necessarily came under the direction of the ladies, required all her time and strength, but the results were highly satisfactory. Of the two hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars which was the net product of this Sanitary Fair, a very liberal proportion was called forth by her indefatigable exertions and her extraordinary executive ability.

The aggregate results of the labors of the Women's Aid Society, before and after the fair, are known to have realized about four hundred thousand dollars in money, and nearly one million five hundred thousand in hospital stores and supplies.

The Soldiers' Home of Cincinnati, one of the best managed of these institutions, was also established by the energy of Mrs. Mendenhall, and her associates. Up to the close of 1864, eighty thousand soldiers had been entertained in this "Home," and three hundred and seventy-two thousand meals dispensed. They also obtained by their exertions, a burial place of Ohio soldiers, dying in Cincinnati, at the Spring Grove Cemetery, the Trustees of the Cemetery giving one lot, and the Legislature purchasing two more at a small price.

The fair closed, she resumed her hospital work and her duties as President of the Women's Soldiers' Aid Society, and continued to perform them to the close of the war. Near the close of 1864, she exerted her energies in behalf of a Fair for soldiers' families, in which fifty thousand dollars were raised for this deserving object. The testimonies of her associates to the admirable manner in which her hospital work was performed are emphatic, and the thousands of soldiers who were the recipients of her gentle ministries, give equally earnest testimonies to her kindness and tenderness of heart.

The freemen and refugees have also shared her kindly ministrations and her open-handed liberality, and since the close of the war her self-sacrificing spirit has found ample employment in endeavoring to lift the fallen of her own sex out of the depths of degradation, to the sure and safe paths of virtue and rectitude.

With the modesty characteristic of a patriotic spirit, Mrs. Mendenhall depreciates her own labors and sacrifices. "What," she says in a letter to a friend, "are my humble efforts for the soldiers, compared with the sacrifice made by the wife or mother of the humblest private who ever shouldered a musket?"

Here's a link to some monthly reports of this group, courtesy of google books.

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