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Civil War Female Nurse

Item MED-7632
Helen Louise Gilson
Price: $350.00


Civil War Female Nurse - Helen Louise Gilson
CDV Backmark: Boston

Orphaned (with her two sisters at an early age), she went to work as head assistant at the all-boy Phillips Grammar School in Boston for several years and departed due to her own health issues. At the start of the war, she was in service as a governess to three children of her uncle, a prosperous business man and Chelsea mayor, Frank B. Fay.

Gilson’s service began in 1861 by organizing with the Soldiers’ Aid Society. Her duties included preparing, collecting and transporting supplies. Hoping to help more, Gilson applied to Dorothea Dix for a nursing diploma, the government superintendent of female nurses. Dix invited her to join if she met the minimum age requirement of thirty. Helen was only twenty-six and did not qualify. Before 1862, Gilson worked with the Sanitary Commission alongside Fay and the Army of the Potomac. She worked alongside this army through most of their major battles. Gilson’s best work during this period was on General Grant’s campaign from Rapidan to Petersburg and the Appomattox which lasted almost a year.

In April 1862, Helen applied a second time to Dix, though this time in person. Dix offered her a placement at Washington’s Columbian College Hospital. Though the particular job fell through, Gilson volunteered at the hospital anyway. In June 1862, Gilson began working on boats for the Hospital Transport System, a specialized division of the Special Relief Corps to provide medical supplies to hospitals. Helen was present at numerous battles, such as Antietam, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and elsewhere.

Gilson is most known for the work she did at changing the hospital at City Point. Set up by the Medical Corps, the conditions were substandard. Helen made it her business to bring it up to the same standards as the hospitals for the white soldier. She introduced new policies to improve conditions, renovations and restructured the hospital as well. Under her leadership the kitchen and daily routines were established, even serving at one time 900 men from the kitchen. It is stated that her work brought down the mortality rate and the African-American hospital became one of the best at City Point. She spent most of the last year of the war ministering to the soldiers of the U.S. Colored Troops and the area freedmen.

Gilson was known to many as an “angel of mercy” for her work with the soldiers, both African American and white. Known to spend time at the soldiers’ besides talking and singing to them, providing comfort as they were close to death.

Information extracted from Wikipedia, Article from Military Images and Civil War Women blog.