History's Women: Misc. Articles: "Mother" Bickerdyke - Hospital Administrator for Union Soldiers“Mother” Bickerdyke
Hospital Administrator During the Civil War in America
1817- 1901 A.D.

“Mother Bickerdyke — How shall we characterize this remarkable woman? Gentle yet stern, affectionate yet wrathful on occasions, courageous, persistent, roughly eloquent, but above all a woman of executive ability who could bring things to pass. “Red Tape” she hated and relentlessly cut on all necessary occasions.

At the outbreak of the war she was a widow, somewhat past middle life. She had but a moderate education. Her frame was robust and well fitted to do the bidding of her iron will.

It is interesting to observe that her ministrations were almost exclusively to the private soldiers. She declared that the officers were sufficiently looked after, and she would work where most needed. And they were ardently devoted to “Mother” Bickerdyke.

Her presence had a wonderfully stimulating effect, not only on sick men but even surgeons and hospital attendants. She could, and did, denounce with terrible vehemence any unfaithfulness on their part, and often secured their removal.

In the Memphis hospitals, with which she was connected, it was reported one morning that the surgeon of a certain ward had not appeared, that the special diet list had not been made out, and that the men were suffering for their breakfast. Quick as thought she gave orders for coffee, soup, gruel, and toast, and started a procession of the attendants with the supplies, heading it, of course, herself. While they were busy feeding the sick men, the surgeon came. She at once faced him with, “You miserable, drunken, heartless scalawag, what do you mean by leaving these fainting, suffering men go till noon with nothing to eat and no attention? Off with your shoulder-straps and get out of the hospital! I’ll have them off in three days, sir.” She was as good as her word. She made charges against him and he was dismissed. He went to General Sherman to complain. The General asked him who made the charges. “Why — why, that spiteful old woman Bickerdyke.” “Oh, well,” said the general, “”she ranks me. She has more power than I. I can’t do anything for you.”


Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.