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Mary A. "Mother" Bickerdyke

Mary Ann BickerdykeCivil War nurse, veterans advocate. 1817-1901

Mary Ann Ball was born July 19, 1817, in Knox County, Ohio. She attended Oberlin College and later received training as a nurse in a Cincinnati hospital where she worked for several years. In 1847, she married Robert Bickerdyke and nine years later, with their two small sons, the couple moved to Galesburg, Illinois. Mr. Bickerdyke died shortly afterward.

During the Civil War, Mrs. Bickerdyke volunteered her considerable medical skills to help the hundreds of men who were dying, not from battle, but from typhoid, dysentery and other diseases.  She helped establish the hospital in Cairo, Illinois, that was known as one of the cleanest in the country. Throughout the war she continued to perform valuable service for the Union army. Traveling with the Army of Tennessee she was present at 19 battles, including Shiloh and Sherman’s March to the Sea. During this time she worked not only as a nurse, but also set up dietary kitchens and established laundry services. All the while she continued her fight to improve Army life for the enlisted men. By the end of the war she had helped to provide 300 hospitals for the wounded and sick.  She was so greatly admired by General William Sherman, that he asked her to ride beside him as soldiers marched through Washington, D.C. after the war had ended.

Certificate from Kansas Historical Society to BickerdykeAfter the war she worked for the Salvation Army in San Francisco. She became an attorney dedicated to helping Civil War veterans with legal issues.  In 1867 Mrs. Bickerdyke moved to Kansas, settling in Salina (Saline County) and running a hotel.  It is said that she influenced 300 soldiers and their families to settle in the state.  For many years she continued to be involved in benevolent activities. "Mother," as she was affectionately known, helped Kansas veterans, the victims of Indian raids, farmers ruined by the grasshopper invasion of 1874, and many others.

The Kansas Historical Society honored Mrs. Bickerdyke in 1895 for her contributions to preserving the state's past. In 1897, in recognition of her many years of humanitarian service, the Woman's Relief Corp named its Ellsworth (Ellsworth County) facility for wives and daughters of Civil War veterans the Mother Bickerdyke Home and Hospital. After suffering a stroke she died at the home of her son in Bunker Hill, KS (Russell County) at the age of 84.

Entry: Bickerdyke, Mary A. "Mother"

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: August 2010

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.