THE SANITARY COMMISSION
 ON the 13th of April, 1861, Fort Sumter in Charleston
harbor was fired upon by the soldiers of the South.
This was the beginning of the great struggle known in
history as the Civil War in America.
Two days before this, Abraham Lincoln called for
seventy-five thousand men to defend the government and
maintain its laws in the South.
The call was answered at once and with great
enthusiasm. Not only did seventy-five thousand men
offer themselves, but thousands more who could not be
accepted. Business was at a stand-still. The plow was
left in the furrow. The factory doors were closed.
The thoughts of all men were upon the crisis which the
country was facing. In every village of the North the
tap of the drum and the shrill music of the fife were
On the very day that Lincoln issued his call,
 some women of Bridgeport, Connecticut, met together to
consider what they could do.
"We cannot go to war," they said, "but our husbands and
sons can go—yes, they will go. Shall we who
remain at home be idle?"
"There will be bloodshed," said some.
"And there will be much suffering in camp and on the
march," said others. "Men will be wounded in battle,
they will be sick from exposure, they will need better
attention than the army surgeons alone can give them.
Can we not do something to help?"
And so these earnest, sympathetic women of Bridgeport
organized themselves into what they called a Soldiers'
Aid Society, and resolved to do all that they could for
the relief and comfort of the men who were at that
moment hurrying forward to answer the President's call.
"We cannot fight," they said, "but we can help the
Miss Almena Bates, a young lady of Charlestown,
Massachusetts, did not know what the ladies of
Bridgeport were doing, but she started out that same
day to do something herself. She went with
 pencil and paper to her friends and acquaintances, and
asked each one to volunteer as a helper.
"The boys are answering the President's call," she
said. "To-morrow they will be on their way to the
front. There will be war. Nurses will be needed on
the battlefields and in the hospitals, Medicines, food,
little comforts for the sick and wounded—all
these ought to be ready at the first need. What will
In a few days women in every part of the North were
forming aid societies. But as yet it was hard for them
to accomplish very much. So long as each little
society was working alone, there was no certainty that
the intended help would ever reach the right place.
At length, two months after the fall of Fort Sumter, a
great organization was formed that would extend all
over the North and would include the aid societies.
The president of this organization was Rev. Henry W.
Bellows of New York, and many well-known men and women
were among its members.
Some people shook their heads and hung back.
 "The government will provide for the relief and comfort
of the soldiers in the field," they said. "What is the
use of these aid societies and this great
Even President Lincoln at first said that he thought
the association would prove to be like a fifth wheel to
a coach—very much in the way.
But the war had now begun in terrible earnest. In the
camps and on the battlefield, the soldiers were
learning what was meant by privation and suffering.
The plans for the work of the association were
carefully made out by Dr. Bellows and his assistants,
and were submitted to the government. The president
approved them. And thus the United States Sanitary
Commission, as it was called, was given the authority
to go forward with its great work of caring for the
health and comfort of the soldiers.
From the aid societies and from the people at large,
help was freely sent. Fairs were held all over the
country for the purpose of raising money. Men, women,
and children joined in working. Each town and city
tried to do more
 than its neighbor had done. At one fair in Chicago
more than seventy-five thousand dollars was raised.
The people of the state of New York gave nearly a
million dollars for the cause.
President Lincoln wrote: "Amongst the extraordinary
manifestations of this war, none has been more
remarkable than these fairs. And their chief agents
are the women of America, I am not accustomed to the
use of the language of eulogy; but I must say, that if
all that has been said by orators and poets since the
creation of the world in praise of women were applied
to the women of America, it would not do them justice
for their conduct during this war. God bless the women
Not only did these women form societies, hold fairs,
and give of their means for this cause, but many of
them were active in the work itself. Women of culture
and education, accustomed to all the comforts that
wealth can give, went to the front as nurses and as
directors of relief in the hospitals and on the
battlefield. First among these was Dorothea Dix, who,
within two weeks after the president's call for
 received the public thanks of the surgeon general and
was placed in charge of all the women nurses at the
Among those who likewise gave their time and energies
to this noble work were Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, Mrs. Mary
A. Livermore, Clara Barton, Dr. Mary Walker, and many
others scarcely less distinguished. Of the golden
deeds done by these self-sacrificing women, there is no
adequate record save in the book of that angel who
writes the names of those who love mankind.
There were hundreds, also, of humble workers who were
no less earnest in their efforts to do good. These
were the nurses in the hospitals and in the field,
besides numberless others who labored at home for the
support of the Commission.
The direct caring for the sick and wounded was only a
small portion of the duties performed under the
direction of the commission. To prevent disease was
one of the first objects, for disease alone might cause
the defeat, if not the destruction, of our armies.
Hence, the managers were on the watch for
what-  ever was likely to guard or improve the health of the
soldiers at the front. They saw that the food was
wholesome and that it was properly cooked.
They started truck gardens for supplying vegetables to
the men. They had charge of the ice and other luxuries
for the sick. They looked after the wounded who were
sent to the rear. They collected bedding, clothing,
and all sorts of delicacies for the use of the sick.
They wrote letters for the disabled, and gave them
stationery, stamps, and envelopes. They gathered up
books and newspapers for the men to read while sick or
off duty. They furnished lodging for the mothers and
wives who had come to the hospital or the camp on
errands of mercy to their wounded sons or husbands.
Lastly, they helped the men who for any reason had been
discharged and lacked the means or the ability to reach
The war continued four years.
During that time more than fifteen million dollars in
supplies of various kinds, besides nearly five million
dollars in money, was freely given for the cause by the
generous-hearted people of the North. Of those who
were engaged in doing the work of
 the Commission, many served without pay and without
desire of reward. Others, however, performed their
duties from more selfish motives—some for the
wages which they received, some for the profits which
they hoped to derive through less honorable channels.
These last deserve no commendation, although they may
have done some valuable service. Their deeds were not
But think of the truly golden deeds that were done in
connection with this cause. Think of the men whose
lives were saved. Think of the mothers and wives who
were made happy by the care bestowed upon their loved
ones, enabling them finally to return to their homes.
Think of the thousands of benefits that were performed
through this one agency. Who is there so lacking in
noble impulses as to deny that it is more heroic to
save life than to destroy it?