Saturday, August 18, 2012

Another example of Iron Willed Southern Women...

"Phoebe Yates Levy Pember (August 18, 1823 - March 4, 1913) was a member of a Jewish family from Charleston, South Carolina and a nurse and female administrator of Chimborazo Hospital at Richmond, Virginia during the WBTS.

She assumed the responsibility informally at the age of 39 and eventually over 15,000 patients came under her direct care during the war. By 1861 she was a childless widow, living with her parents in Marietta, Georgia where they had fled to escape the ravages of war. Unhappy at home, Pember accepted an invitation to serve at Richmond's Chimborazo Hospital. She reported for duty in December 1862.

A sprawling institution on the outskirts of the city, Chimborazo was reportedly the largest military hospital in the world in the 1860s. By the end of the Civil War, the hospital had cared for some 76,000 patients.

Pember's job was to head up one of the facility's five divisions. It was an unusual job for a woman, at a time when virtually all nursing was done by men. Pember's varied duties surely required what one of her contemporaries described as her "will of steel under a suave refinement."

Although Pember had to thwart efforts by her staff to pilfer supplies, once reportedly threatening a would-be thief with a gun, she also seems to have been accepted and valued by patients. In a male-dominated environment, she was able to give soldiers a warm, feminine presence. Lacking adequate food, medicine, and other supplies, often that warm presence was the best that Pember and her staff could offer. Although she dedicated herself to relieving the suffering of soldiers, she was often simply a final companion for the dying.

Pember remained at Chimborazo until the Confederate surrender in April 1865. After the war, she wrote her memoirs, which were published as A Southern Woman's Story: Life in Confederate Richmond, in 1879. This book, which details her daily life through anecdotes of the war years, remains one of the best sources for understanding the experiences and ideas of Southern Jewish women before and during the Civil War."

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