Hancock was born a Quaker in Hancocks Bridge, New Jersey. She was a celebrated Civil War nurse, first turned down for service because of her age and fairness of face. While traveling through Baltimore in July 1863 to accompany her brother-in-law, Dr. Henry Child, to the Gettysburg battlefield, Hancock was the only female nursing volunteer to be rejected. Dorothea Dix, the superintendent of Union Army nurses, Hancock later wrote in her journal, "immediately objected to my going farther on the score of my youth and rosy cheeks."
Hancock, who recently had turned 25, didn't fit Dix's requirements that the military's female nurses be, "mature in years (at least 30), plain almost to homeliness in dress, and by no means liberally endowed with personal attractions.”
Hancock got on the train anyway. "I got into Gettysburg the night of July sixth – where the need was so great that there was no further cavil about age,” she wrote in her journal.
After the war, she opened a school for African Americans in South Carolina. In Philadelphia, she founded several charity organizations and remained active in social work until her death. She never married.
Her popular collection of wartime letters is no longer in print.
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