When the Civil War broke out in 1861 both men and women were ready and willing to volunteer to fight for the cause or help promote the success of the cause in one way or another. Women in the North began by organizing ladies’ aid societies in order to continually supply the Union troops with all of the necessary items for staying alive in a war. Many were content working behind the scenes in a more relaxed role, collecting donations for canned food and clothing gifts to the soldiers. However, sentiments of unrest among women were starting to emerge in the middle years of the war as some women wanted to have a more active role in supporting the men in the war effort. They referred to the work of Florence Nightingale and her counterparts in the Crimean War and used this example to try to find a way that they could work closer to the front lines, therefore making more of a difference in the war effort. In June of 1861 their tiring efforts succeeded, and the United States government agreed to create a hygienic service for the benefit of the army.
This force was to be called the United States Sanitary Commission, and its primary mission was to improve conditions in army bases and hospitals in order to prevent the spread of dangerous and deadly infections and diseases. Most of the women involved with the Commission came from the Women’s Central Relief Association of New York which was a social organization composed of women in the North attempting to make a difference in the war. The women working within the US Sanitary Commission raised money (almost $25 million), ran kitchens at base camps, acted as nurses in army hospitals for the Union soldiers, made uniforms, and administered places of rest for disabled or traveling soldiers. In addition, women organized sanitary fairs in different cities in order to support the Union army with funds and supplies. The women within the organization often worked in hard conditions and traveled great distances in order to help support the North’s cause in the Civil War. Socially, women left their traditional roles in the household in order to band together and make a difference as a group in the Civil War. Their common interests led them to stretch the social boundaries and form a new social group that would ultimately affect the lives of thousands of soldiers in the North throughout the war. Their ability to come together and enforce new sanitary standards led to a change in the overall medical conditions of the war and changed the range of women’s affect on the war as a whole.
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