During the Civil War, Illinois provided one of the most capable and devoted members of the Corps of Union Nurses. Her name was Mary Ann Bickerdyke.
On July 19, 1817, Mary Ann Bickerdyke was born in Knox County, Ohio. Bickerdyke prepared for nursing while attending Oberlin College in Cincinnati. In 1856, she, her husband, Robert, and their two sons moved to Galesburg, Illinois. Her husband died two years later. In the summer of 1861, in Knox County, Illinois, she started her career in the army.
Around that time a powerful Union army was gathering at Cairo and preparing to invade the South. These men, many from Galesburg, were poorly housed, ill-fed, and barely equipped. Sanitary and medical conditions were crude. Typhoid, dysentery, pneumonia, measles, and malaria were abundant. Hundreds of men were dying without ever having fought in any battles.
During the four years of the war, Bickerdyke was present at nineteen battles, tending the wounded on the field or in hospitals, directing diet kitchens, managing army laundries (which she introduced), and, in general, displaying extraordinary administrative ability and stamina. Zealous in fighting for the enlisted man, she was the curse of incompetent officers, but generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman held her in the highest esteem. She came to be affectionately known as "Mother Bickerdyke."
In November 1901 she suffered a stroke. Several days later she passed peacefully away at the age of eighty-four.
Mother Bickerdyke was honored and beloved by the entire nation, both North and South. In 1903 the state of Illinois raised a monument in Galesburg to the memory of this remarkable woman. The monument shows a compassionate Mother Bickerdyke kneeling beside a wounded soldier and holding a cup to his lips.—[From Arthur Charles Cole, The Era of the Civil War, 1848-1870; Victor Hicken, Illinois in the Civil War; Robert P. Howard, Illinois: A History of the Prairie State.]