Civil War Nurse
Elizabeth Mendenhall was one of the managers of the Soldiers' Aid Society of Cincinnati, Ohio. She was the wife of Dr. George Mendenhall, an eminent citizen of Cincinnati.
Elizabeth was born in Philadelphia in 1819, but her childhood and youth were spent in Richmond, Virginia, where her sister – her only close relative – lived. Her relatives belonged to the Society of Friends (Quakers), and though she lived in a slaveholding community, she grew up with a strong dislike of slavery. Most Quakers were also abolitionists.
After her wedding in 1838, Elizabeth moved 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 throughout the summer and autumn of that year, and the following winter, Mrs. Mendenhall was active in organizing sewing circles and aid societies to make the necessary clothing and comforts that the soldiers needed when they were suddenly called to the field.
In February, 1862, the sick and wounded began to pour into the government hospitals of Cincinnati, from the siege of Fort Donelson, and still greater numbers came from . From that time until the close of the war, the hospitals were almost constantly filled with sick or wounded soldiers, and Mrs. Mendenhall devoted herself to their care.
For two and a half years, Elizabeth spent half of every day, often the whole day, serving the sick and wounded in any capacity that could add to their comfort. She obtained supplies 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. She worked at the four general hospitals in Cincinnati, but particularly at the Washington Park Hospital.
During all this time, she was actively involved in promoting the Women's Soldiers' Aid Society, and serving as its president. The enthusiasm generated by the Sanitary Fair at Chicago, led Mrs. Mendenhall to believe that a similar enterprise would be feasible in Cincinnati, which should draw its supplies from all of the Ohio Valley.
Elizabeth began to publicize this enterprise by publishing articles in the daily newspapers of the city, her first article appearing in the Times of October 31, 1863, and others followed in the other local papers. The idea was received with favor, and on the 7th of November an editorial appeared in the Cincinnati Gazette entitled, Who speaks for Cincinnati?
Committees were appointed, an organization established, 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, the first Vice-President.
To this work, Mrs. Mendenhall devoted all her energies. Eloquent appeals from her pen were addressed to loyal and patriotic men and women all over the country, and a special appeal to the patriotic young ladies of Cincinnati and the Ohio Valleyfor their cooperation in the good work.
The correspondence and supervision of that portion of the fair required all of Elizabeth's time and strength, but the results were highly satisfactory. Of the $235,000 that was the net product of theCincinnati Sanitary Fair. The aggregate results of the Women's Aid Society, before and after the fair, are known to have realized about $400,000 in money, and nearly $1,500,000 in hospital stores and supplies.
After the fair closed, Mrs. Mendenhall resumed her hospital work and her duties as President of the Women's Soldiers' Aid Society, and continued to perform them until the close of the war. In late 1864, she helped organize a fair on behalf the soldiers' families, which raised $50,000. The testimonies of her associates to the admirable manner in which her hospital work was performed, and the thousands of soldiers who were the recipients of her gentle care, give equally earnest testimonies to her kindness and tenderness of heart.
The freedmen and refugees have also shared her kindly ministrations, and even after 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 said 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?"