Bonnie Cook, Inquirer reporter, and Eileen Santori, board member of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, will speak at 1 p.m. Saturday at Pennypacker Mills in Schwenksville on how local women served in the Civil War, both on the battlefield and the homefront.
Cook and Santori, who are friends, developed an interest in volunteer Civil War nurses after tracing the experiences of one nurse buried in the Montgomery Cemetery, in W. Norriton. It turned out that the woman, Elizabeth J. Brower, of Norristown, went to care for "our boys" starting with the Battle of Antietam in 1862. In all, she ministered to the sick and dying for 18 months, but paid dearly for it; she spent 31 years afterwards at the Harrisburg Hospital for the Insane, where she died in 1919. Others, though, thrived on the battlefield nursing experience. It made them feel useful and effective, some for the first time.
Those who stayed home turned their houses into supply depots, organizing Ladies Aid Societies that shipped barrel after barrel of food, drink, clothing and medical supplies to Army hospitals where the materials were desperately needed. They sewed garments for the men; they knitted socks; put up preserves and picked lint to pack wounds. The women later called on the organizational and political skills they had learned in the war to help form the Red Cross, the Daughters of the American Revolution, to set aside the land that's now Valley Forge Park as a historic memorial, and to foster the suffrage and temperance movements.