Mary Ann Bickerdyke

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Mary Ann Bickerdyke in 1898

Mary Ann Bickerdyke (July 19, 1817 – November 8, 1901), also known as Mother Bickerdyke, was a hospital administrator for Union soldiers during the American Civil War.

Early Life[edit]

She was born in Knox County, Ohio, to Hiram Ball and Annie Rodgers Ball. She later moved to Galesburg, Illinois.

During Civil War[edit]

After the outbreak of the Civil War, she joined a field hospital at Fort Donelson, working alongside Mary J. Safford. Bickerdyke also worked closely with Eliza Emily Chappell Porter of Chicago's Northwestern branch of the United States Sanitary Commission. She later worked on the first hospital boat. During the war, she became chief of nursing under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant, and served at the Battle of Vicksburg. When his staff complained about the outspoken, insubordinate female nurse who consistently disregarded the army's red tape and military procedures, Union Gen. William T. Sherman threw up his hands and exclaimed, "She ranks me. I can't do a thing in the world."[1] Bickerdyke was a nurse who ran roughshod over anyone who stood in the way of her self-appointed duties. She was known affectionately to her "boys," the grateful enlisted men, as "Mother" Bickerdyke. When a surgeon questioned her authority to take some action, she replied, "On the authority of Lord God Almighty, have you anything that outranks that?"[2]

Mother Bickerdyke became the best known, most colorful, and probably most resourceful Civil War nurse. Widowed two years before the war began, she supported herself and her two half-grown sons by practicing as a "botanic Physician" in Galesburg, Illinois. When a young Union volunteer physician wrote home about the filthy, chaotic military hospitals at Cairo, Illinois, Galesburg's citizens collected $500 worth of supplies and selected Bickerdyke to deliver them (no one else would go).

She stayed in Cairo as an unofficial nurse, and through her unbridled energy and dedication she organized the hospitals and gained Grant's appreciation. Grant sanctioned her efforts, and when his army moved down the Mississippi, Bickerdyke went, too, setting up hospitals where they were needed. Sherman was especially fond of this volunteer nurse who followed the western armies, and supposedly she was the only woman he would allow in his camp. By the end of the war, with the help of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Mother Bickerdyke had built 300 hospitals and aided the wounded on 19 battlefields including the Battle of Shiloh and Sherman's March to the Sea.

"Mother" Bickerdyke was so loved by the army that the soldiers would cheer her as they would a general when she appeared. At Sherman's request, she rode at the head of the XV Corps in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington at the end of the war.

After the War[edit]

After the war ended, she worked for the Salvation Army in San Francisco, and became an attorney, helping Union veterans with legal issues.

She ran a hotel in Salina, Kansas, for a time. She received a special pension of $25 a month from Congress in 1886, and retired to Bunker Hill, Kansas. She died peacefully after a minor stroke.


A statue of her was erected in Galesburg, and a hospital boat and a liberty ship, the Mary Bickerdyke,[3] were named after her.


  1. ^ De Leeuw, Adèle (1961). "Cyclone in Calico". Nurses who Led the Way. Whitman. p. 27. OCLC 2702953. 
  2. ^ Livermore, Mary (1888). "XXIV". My Story of the War. 
  3. ^ Henderson, Harold J. (May 1947). "Ships in World War II Bearing Kansas Names". Retrieved 26 November 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

  • American Civil War Nurses: Louisa May Alcott, Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix, Harriet Ann Jacobs, Louisa Hawkins Canby, Sarah Chauncey Woolsey. [s.l.]: Books LLC, 2010. ISBN 1-155-73256-1 OCLC 731672742
  • Baker, Nina Brown. Cyclone in Calico: THe Story of Mary Ann Bickerdyke. Boston: Little, Brown, 1952. OCLC 655701
  • Bergeron, Destiny. Women in Blue: The Story of Three Women from Illinois Who Fought in the Civil War. Thesis (B.A.)--Lake Forest College, 2002. OCLC 50043862
  • Brockett, L. P. Woman's Work in the Civil War: A Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience. Philadelphia: Zeigler, McCurdy & Co, 1867. OCLC 6942381
  • Brockett, L. P., and Mary C. Vaughan. Heroines of the Rebellion; Or, Woman's Work in the Civil War; a Record of Heroism, Patriotism and Patience. [N.p.]: Edgewood Pub. Co, n.d. OCLC 2211258
  • Brockett, L. P., and Mary C. Vaughan. The Angels of the Battlefields: The Florence Nightingales of the U.S. Civil War. Liskeard, Cornwall, U.K.: Diggory Press, 2006. ISBN 1-846-85042-8 OCLC 70119574
  • Bullough, Vern L., Olga Maranjian Church, Alice P. Stein, and Lilli Sentz. American Nursing: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland, 1988. ISBN 0-824-08540-X OCLC 16871189
  • Chase, Julia A. Houghton. Mary A. Bickerdyke, "Mother". The Life Story of One Who, As Wife, Mother, Army Nurse, Pension Agent and City Missionary, Has Touched the Heights and Depths of Human Life. Lawrence, Kans: Journal Pub. House, 1896. OCLC 15538435
  • Davis, Margaret B. Mother Bickerdyke: Her Life and Labors for the Relief of Our Soldiers : Sketches of Battle Scenes and Incidents of the Sanitary Service. San Francisco, Cal: A.T. Dewey, 1886. OCLC 36049272
  • DeLeeuw, Adele. Civil War Nurse, Mary Ann Bickerdyke. New York: J. Messner, 1973. ISBN 0-671-32618-X OCLC 628286
  • Dodge, Bertha S. The Story of Nursing. Boston: Little, Brown, 1965. OCLC 974349
  • Eggleston, Larry G. Women in the Civil War: Extraordinary Stories of Soldiers, Spies, Nurses, Doctors, Crusaders, and Others. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2003. ISBN 0-786-41493-6 OCLC 51580671
  • Favor, Lesli J. Women Doctors and Nurses of the Civil War. New York: Rosen Pub. Group, 2004. ISBN 0-823-94452-2 OCLC 54618433
  • Frank, Lisa Tendrich. Women in the American Civil War. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2008. ISBN 1-851-09605-1 OCLC 247053830
  • Garrison, Webb B. Amazing Women of the Civil War. Nashville, Tenn.: Rutledge Hill Press, 1999. ISBN 1-558-53791-0 OCLC 41476784
  • Gordon, Sarah H. Bickerdyke, Mary Ann Ball. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Harper, Judith E. Women During the Civil War: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0-415-93723-X OCLC 51942662
  • Highlights of the Civil War, 1861-1865. Peterborough, NH: Cobblestone Magazine, 1981. OCLC 16630792
  • Holland, Mary Gardner. Our Army Nurses: Stories from Women in the Civil War. Roseville, Minn.: Edinborough Press, 1998. ISBN 1-889-02004-4 OCLC 39229518
  • James, Edward T., Janet Wilson James, and Paul S. Boyer. Notable American Women, 1607-1950 A Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. ISBN 1-849-72271-4 OCLC 221275644
  • Kahler, Bruce R. "Mary Ann "Mother" Bickerdyke: A Gilded Age Icon". John Brown to Bob Dole, 2006. OCLC 68968114
  • Kellogg, Florence Shaw. Mother Bickerdyke, As I Knew Her. Chicago: Unity Pub. Co., 1907. OCLC 15612720
  • Largent, Kimberly J. Pearls of Blue and Gray: Women of the Civil War. Milford, Ohio: Little Miami Pub. Co., 1999. ISBN 1-932-25069-7 OCLC 427548352
  • Litvin, Martin. The Young Mary: 1817-1861 ; Early Years of Mother Bickerdyke, America's Florence Nightingale, and Patron Saint of Kansas. Galesburg, Ill.: Log City Books, 1976. OCLC 2841159
  • McKown, Robin. Heroic Nurses. New York: Putnam, 1966. OCLC 953066
  • Osborne, Karen K. Mother Bickerdyke, Civil War Mother to the Boys. Milwaukee, Wis.: Blue & Grey Chap Books, 1990. OCLC 26129082
  • Robbins, Peggy. General Grant's "Calico Colonel". Gettysburg, Pa: National Historical Society, 1979. OCLC 671276704
  • Schroeder-Lein, Glenna R. The Encyclopedia of Civil War Medicine. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2008. ISBN 0-765-62470-2 OCLC 644309272
  • Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Historical Encyclopedia of Nursing. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 1999. ISBN 1-576-07086-7 OCLC 42290243
  • Tsui, Bonnie. She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War. Guilford, Conn.: TwoDot, 2006. ISBN 0-762-74384-0 OCLC 154202084
  • Webb, Dave. Mary Bickerdyke. S.l: Kansas Heritage Center, 1985. OCLC 22380376

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