Phoebe Yates Levy Pember:
A Civil War Nurse
by Seymour “Sy” Brody
It was at the beginning of the Civil War that Phoebe Yates Levy Pember became a widow when her husband, Thomas Pember, died of tuberculosis. She moved from South Carolina to Richmond, Virginia, which was the capital of the Confederacy.
Through her friendship with Mrs. George W. Randolph, wife of the Confederate Secretary of War, Phoebe Pember received an offer to be a matron of the Chimborazo Military Hospital. At that time, this military hospital was thought to be the largest in the world.
It was located on the western boundary of Richmond. During the Civil War. They took care of over 76,000 wounded and sick Confederate soldiers. It had 150 wards, each one in a separate building, holding 40 to 60 patients. There was only one doctor in each ward to take care of them. They were also confronted with shortages of medication, medical supplies. personal and food. When compared with the medical and technical knowledge of today, at this time and place, they were primitive.
Phoebe Pember entered this hospital confronted with misery and despair. She dedicated herself in doing anything possible to relieve the pain and suffering of these soldiers by administering medication, assisting the surgeons in operations, changing bandages and comforting the wounded and sick. Many times, she was the final companion for the dying soldiers.
She had to overcome the prejudices of the male doctors, who felt that women didn’t belong alongside of them and that they shouldn’t see the horrors of war. Her answer to all of this was written in her book, “A Southern Woman’s Story,” which was published in 1879.
“In the midst of suffering and death, hoping with those almost beyond hope in this world; praying by the bedside of the lonely and heart stricken; closing the eyes of the boys hardly old enough to realize man’s sorrows, much less suffer man’s fierce hate, a woman must soar beyond the conventional modesty considered correct under different circumstances.”
Her book is considered by many historians as one of the most realistic accounts and picture of the Southern view of the Civil War.
Phoebe Yates Levy Pember was born on August 18, 1823. She was the fourth of six daughters of an orthodox, cultural and prosperous Jewish family. She died on March 4, 1913, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Justin Moranski, Computer Article Consultant
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Last updated 12 May 2011